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Saturday, 17 June, 2000, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
AOL hit by hackers
AOL screen grab
Number of AOL accounts compromised
The biggest, richest and most successful internet company in the world, America Online, has been hit by hackers.

AOL/Time Warner Special Report
The company said hackers had gained access to a number of member accounts through a virus attached to e-mails.

The attack was similar to the ILOVEYOU virus that temporarily paralysed millions of computers last month, though on a far smaller scale.

This latest security breach highlights the vulnerability of even the world's large internet services provider to the threat of hacker attacks.

America Online
HQ: Dulles, Virginia
Founded 1985
Employees: 12,100
1999 revenue: $4.8bn
1999 profit: $762.0m
Market value: $118bn
World's largest online service
Most popular e-commerce platform
23m AOL members
"A small number of member accounts may have been illegally viewed," admitted America Online spokesman Rich D'Amato.

"We are aware of claims that a small number of member accounts were illegally accessed. We take these claims seriously," he said.

Virus e-mails

The people behind the attack targeted AOL customer service representatives with e-mails containing a virus attachment.

When opened, it created a connection to the sender's computer and allowed access to some AOL accounts, including the customer's name, address and credit card details.

AOL has minimised the impact of the security breach, stressing the hackers did not appear to have gained access to AOL's database of 23 million members.

"We will continue to investigate these claims and will turn over what we learn to law enforcement authorities," said Mr D'Amato.

"We will take any and all opportunities to prosecute these hackers," he said.

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