We have received evidence which suggests a mass hack of ICQ has taken place - but neither AOL or security experts can come up with an explanation.
A Register reader last week discovered that both of his accounts had suddenly become disconnected and the passwords no longer work. The email addresses for both accounts were changed to 'firstname.lastname@example.org'.
A search of the ICQ whitepages reveals hundreds of accounts all with that same address (registered in places such as China and Egypt), and we began to suspect some kind of mass hack had been carried out.
We were able to rule out the possibility that our source had given out his passwords in response to a spoofed message, or some other typical script kiddie exploit.
Beyond telling us that it takes security "very seriously" and AOL was unable to shed any light on the issue. Its techies are looking into the issue, we were assured, but after 48 hours they've still to get back to us.
So we contacted AV vendor Sophos and security consultants MIS Corporate Defence. Neither could account for the 'hack', though MIS did point to a hijack exploit dating from 1998, but AOL has since updated its software and we very much doubt this accounts for what has happened.
The problem could possibly be the upshot of a recently discovered remotely exploitable buffer overflow glitch with ICQ, but our source doubts that this is the case, either.
With newer versions of ICQ your contact list gets stored on its server and can be retrieved at any computer with ICQ and the correct password. So if the accounts have been cracked, somebody could harvest this potentially sensitive information.
Deathrow.com appears to be a gaming software company but our emails to it failed to get through, so that avenue of enquiry has yielded a blank.
If anyone has any idea what's happening we'd love to hear about it. This one has left everyone baffled, including us. ®