Warner Brothers: Someone stole our email

Computer system broken into and pyramid spam sent to newsletter subscribers
Written by Bob Sullivan, Contributor on

Someone has broken into Warner Brothers Online computer system and sent spam to the company's newsletter subscribers. The company sent out an apology email Friday, admitting "someone gained unauthorised access to our computer system" and, as a result, "many subscribers" received emails offering a pyramid-type investment scheme. The company would not comment on whether other information might have been taken.

Sometime last week, an email with the subject line "Five Is The Key To My Freedom, It Could Be Yours..." was sent to Net users who had signed up for newsletters from Warner Brothers Online.

The note promises instant riches, making outlandish claims, like:

"Making over half million dollars every four to five months from your home for an investment of only $25 US Dollars expense one time THANK'S TO THE COMPUTER AGE AND THE INTERNET !"

Essentially, the note urges recipients to send $5 to five others under the thin guise of ordering reports such as, "Secret to Multilevel Marketing on the Net." Then, recipients are urged to spam thousands of Net users with the invitation email.

The note has been making its way around the Web for at least three months -- reports to spam abuse mailing lists date back as far as January. But the effort apparently got new life last week when someone got the Warner Brothers Online customer data.

A spokesperson for the company confirmed the data breach and said a note went out to users on Friday evening.

"Our priority was to ensure we got to newsletter recipients to alert them that this was unauthorized and no way affiliated with Warner Brothers," said company spokesman Scott Rowe. He characterised the breach as serious but a small incident. Further investigation showed that the spam went only to subscribers of a single adult television show mailing list, he said.

In the email, the company also emphasised that the solicitation was illegal. "We have become aware that an email may have been sent to many of our newsletter subscribers yesterday, April 5, 2001," the company wrote. "This unauthorised email advertised a pyramid-type investment scheme, promising the potential of great financial reward to its participants.

"Notwithstanding the appearance of the message, Warner Brothers Online was not in fact the author of this email. We did not authorize any third party to send it to you, and we do not endorse its content. Apparently, someone gained unauthorised access to our computer system and used it to send this message to you.

"Warner Brothers Online places utmost importance on the security of our databases and on protecting the information you have entrusted to us. Rest assured, we are taking steps to ensure that such a breach of security does not happen again, and we apologise for any inconvenience..."

Warner Brothers Online, a unit of AOL-Time Warner, is the Internet arm of the company's successful line of entertainment products. Site content ranges from a Harry Potter community aimed at children to Web pages for fans of the racy cable TV programme La Femme Nikita.

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