Trent's Hacked AOL Account

Originally published in C|NET on June 1, 1998

Trent Reznor, lead singer and songwriter for the industrial-rock band Nine Inch Nails, has become the latest victim of an America Online account takeover-- and the alternative rock guru plans to take action against the perpetrator.

Amber Appelbaum, a 22-year-old Georgia woman, was arrested last Monday for fraudulently accessing Reznor's AOL account, according to the New Orleans Police Department. She was released on her own recognizance last Wednesday, police said.

Appelbaum apparently obtained Reznor's password by calling AOL's billing department pretending to be Reznor's wife. She then proceeded to use his account, according to a report by the New Orleans Times Picayune. Reznor, who goes by the screen name "MT Rez," reportedly hired a private investigator after discovering changes in his account. But AOL spokeswoman Ann Brackbill refuted the claims, saying that passwords cannot be "obtained" when a user calls customer support. Rather, AOL resets passwords by giving the user a new temporary password, she said. New Orleans police arrested Appelbaum on charges of fraud, access device fraud, and making harassing phone calls to the rock star, according to police. The story was also reported in New Orleans newspaper the Times-Picayune.

"From what we know of this situation, this is the case of an obsessive fan," said AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose. "We are working very closely with the New Orleans Police Department in investigating the situation." Brackbill added, "At this time there is no evidence that Appelbaum didn't already have all the information she needed to verify the account, and no evidence that any of AOL's policies were violated." In addition to the charges on the arrest warrant, the report said that nine long distance phone calls were charged to the rock star's credit card.

The report comes on the heels of several privacy concerns that have confronted the world's largest online service of late. Last week, CNET NEWS.COM reported a security breach in AOL's customer service division that lead to the vandalizing of the American Civil Liberties Union AOL page, and a number of member account takeovers. The hacker--or what many call a "cracker"--"socially engineered" his way into other subscriber accounts without account verification by simply convincing a customer service representative he was the targeted account holder.

The online service also came under attack when a service representative released the real identity of sailor Timothy R. McVeigh to Navy investigators, thus violating its own privacy policy. The investigators discharged McVeigh because his member profile said "gay" under the "marital status" category. McVeigh has since been reinstated. AOL would not say whether Reznor's account was taken over by means of a social engineering hack, but maintained that it and the New Orleans Police Department are investigating the matter. Neither Reznor nor his agent could be reached for comment.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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