UPDATE: AOL Europe unclear on hack threat

After MSNBC discovered a serious security glitch in AOL's Instant Messenger, European users are left in the dark on the risks, Will Knight reports

The European offices of AOL do not know whether its subscribers are at risk from malicious computer hackers who have reportedly exploited a security hole in its Instant Messenger service, discovered Monday. One analyst recommends European users stop using IM immediately.

Asked if European users were at risk of having their IM service accounts hacked Director of Corporate Communications for AOL Europe, Matt Peacock, told ZDNet UK News: "I have no idea whether this is an issue [for European users]."

Peacock also said that all "technology issues" and questions of "security regarding the fundamentals of the service" must be referred to AOL headquarters in the United States. The US office was unable to offer any more clarity on the matter.

According to MSNBC, a partner of ZDNet, the security problem gives unauthorised access to Instant Messenger identities, enabling a variety of fraudulent activity including credit-card theft.

Adam Daum, senior consultant at Industry analyst Gartner Group gave clear advice: "I would stop using Instant Messenger immediately and until AOL Europe could offer some guarantee of safety, I would advise others to do the same," he said.

AOL US admitted Monday that it is investigating the security hole but said it could not reveal how many customers may have been targeted because it might obstruct the ongoing investigation.

A computer cracker calling himself TangentX and claiming to be just 17 years old reportedly demonstrated his exploit to MSNBC estimating that more than 400 Instant Messenger identities had been stolen to date.

According to AOL, 45 million people have created AOL Instant Messenger screen names since August 1999.

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