AOL 6.0 security questioned

'You've got bugs'

The annoyingly buggy AOL 6.0, carefully engineered to redeem its hopelessly buggy 5.0 predecessor, brings up a few spyware-esque security issues, according to WinMag.com columnist Fred Langa who actually went so far as to install it (talk about journalistic sacrifice).

"About a year ago, I tried AOL 5.0 when it was new. But I ended up reformatting my hard drive after the AOL software made myriad clumsy, undesirable and irrevocable changes to my system," Langa reports in a recent column.

AOL's latest newbie trap seems to offer better, if not actually good, stability, but installs something like eleven superfluous networking protocols, among them what Langa characterises as a "dangerous" Virtual Private Networking (VPN) set-up.

"Dial-Up Adapter #2 also gets TCP/IP but in that case 'file and print sharing' is enabled - a potentially huge security hole. Worse, AOL binds IPX to that adapter, creating a potentially dangerous cross-link between the normally internal LAN protocols and the normally external Internet protocols," he says.

This is no understatement. Unless a user knows what he's doing - and AOL clients rarely fall into that category - file and print sharing is the easiest of all security holes for malicious third parties to exploit. Indeed, there's little we can think of that could make one's box less secure on the Net.

So what's up with that? Does AOL want access to users' files for some diabolical purpose?

Langa doesn't think so. Grotesque technical incompetence, not malevolence, strike him as the chief operator here. "I was able to get AOL to run after modifying the VPN components to improve their security." he reports.

"For example, I unbound IPX from the second Dial-Up Adapter; and likewise disabled print and file sharing for that adapter. AOL6 ran without complaint, which suggests that AOL's default VPN settings are probably incorrect."

Unfortunately, 6.0 wouldn't run with the VPN set-up disabled, so we can assume that AOL definitely wants it there, whether the user does or not. The problem is that the company attracts precisely the sort of newbie user who's unlikely to know that file and print sharing is a suicidal option and to have less than a clue as to how to muck about successfully with network settings.

AOL, we're disappointed to report, was unable or unwilling to return our call by press time and explain the rationale behind this apparent security faux pas. We'll be delighted to update the story if and when they do. ®

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