[mailhist-discuss] Question #2 for my story

Jack Haverty jack at 3kitty.org
Sun Mar 22 10:46:30 PDT 2015


On 03/20/2015 10:08 AM, Linda Hess wrote:
> Does anyone on the list know if it would be possible for someone to
> hack the account and redirect emails to a specific person so they
> don't get through?

Once you allow the existence of a benevolent hacker, almost anything was
possible.  The hacker could access the mail server system as
administrator/developer, and do all sorts of mischief.   So the short
answer is "Yes."

The "redirect email for one specific addressee" scenario depends on the
details of the particular email system.   In the system I built (back in
the mid 70s) it would have been straightforward to create such behavior.
  In fact, that system had an annoying tendency to do such things on its
own, due to the bugs that I never managed to annihilate.   No hacker
needed...

Of course, getting into a system as admin/developer probably required a
bit of work to get a password.  But systems were not always well
protected in those days - the focus was on just getting them to work at
all.   Given the stream of news stories about large systems and theft of
sensitive data, it seems that some systems aren't well enough protected
even today. 

You'd have to find someone familiar with the internals of AOL in those
days to find out how easy it was to hack into AOL back then to do any
specific mischief.  AOL is probably the most memorable public mail
service from the early 90s, as they carpeted the planet with CDROMs.  
But they still exist, and might not appreciate the negative publicity.  

I don't think I ever had an AOL account (am I the only one?), but I had
a Compuserve account back in the late 80s, as well as an MCIMail account
(when was that Dave...?)   Also, by then there were commercial spinoffs
from the NSF Internet efforts, providing service to the public.  One was
PSI (Performance Systems International), which had a pretty large footprint.

In addition to black-holing selected email, much other mischief was
straightforward.  E.G., sending an email which looked like it came from
someone else, or even intercepting an email, changing its contents, and
letting it then continue on to the recipient.   Lots of interesting
story elements there...

HTH,
/Jack Haverty



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