AIM Beta Fixes Security Hole

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2004-08-10 Print this article Print

AOL releases a test version of AIM 5.9 that addresses a remote-attack security vulnerability affecting the "Away" feature in its instant messaging client.

America Online Inc. has released a beta version of AOL Instant Messenger that fixes a critical security hole that could open users to remote attack. As previously reported, AOL had promised to fix the vulnerability in an upgraded version of AIM. On Tuesday, it made a test version of AIM 5.9 available for download. Security researchers had found that AIM 5.5 for Windows, and possibly earlier versions, was vulnerable to an attacker executing arbitrary code.
An attacker could initiate a buffer overflow through AIMs "Away" feature if a user were to click on a malicious link sent in an instant message. The "Away" features allows AIM users to send automatic messages about their presence status.
AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said the Dulles, Va., company knew of no active exploits of the vulnerability. Security research company iDEFENSE Inc., which put out an advisory this week, had informed AOL of the issue about a month ago, giving AOL an opportunity to plug the hole, Weinstein said. The fix also will be incorporated into the full release of AIM 5.9, which a spokeswoman said is expected in early fall. "We will continue to upgrade the product, and there will be a full release in future, but we encourage users to download the beta if they have any concerns about security," Weinstein said. "We advise users of IM and e-mail to be extremely cautious about clicking any link, especially if its from people they dont know." Besides the security fix, the AIM 5.9 beta also includes a new feature, "Youve Got Picture," for storing and sharing digital photos through IM, as well as hundreds of additional buddy icons. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at for the latest security news, reviews and analysis.

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Matthew Hicks As an online reporter for, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.

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