AOL spikes Trillian users

People who use Cerulean Studio's popular Trillian program to connect to America Online's Instant Messenger service received a stern reprimand from AOL last week, and then found themselves booted off the service.

Trillian is a free downloadable program that lets you simultaneously connect to separate instant messaging services, including AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC. Users like the program because they don't have to run multiple clients to communicate with users on different services.

AOL, however, isn't impressed. The company has engaged Trillian's makers in an ongoing game of cat and mouse--disconnecting or barring users when possible--for weeks.

High-Tech Games

It goes like this: AIM engineers build a block that stops Trillian users from connecting to the service. Then, often the same day, engineers at Cerulean post a patch to work around the block. Devout Trillian users download the patch from Trillian's Web site and reconnect to the service. Within a few days, another round of the game begins.

Late last week, AOL appeared to take another step. AIM engineers blocked access, and then sent Trillian users a tersely worded statement:

"You have been disconnected from the AOL Instant Message Service for accessing the AOL network using unauthorized software. You can download a FREE, fully featured, and authorized client, here http://www.aol.com/aim/dow."

AOL: They're Hackers

"This is nothing new, and this is not about interoperability," says Kathy McKiernan, AOL spokesperson. "This is about a company releasing software that hacks into our system, endangering the security of that system and our users."

McKiernan says AOL understands its AIM customers would like to communicate with users of other services, and says the company is working to make that possible. AOL has conducted tests with Lotus, and is working closely with the Internet Engineering Task Force toward interoperability, she says.

In fact, some sort of interoperability was a condition of federal regulatory approval for AOL's 2001 merger with Time Warner.

AOL has a policy of blocking other instant messaging systems, however. It has blocked several similar interoperability efforts by other services, such as MSN and Odigo. McKiernan says AOL takes such actions as security measures. True interoperability involves a secure system in which users don't have to release their passwords to a third party, she says. (To use Trillian to access AOL's service you have to plug in your AIM user name and password.)McKiernan also notes that Trillian does not operate its own service or network, and she says people who think Cerulean Studios has a contract with AOL are mistaken.

"There is not business agreement between our company and Trillian," she says. "To the extent that that is being implied, it's not correct."

Cerulean Studios Cofounder Scott Werndorfer issued his own terse reply when contacted by e-mail about AOL's actions last Friday.

"We are aware of the problem and are actively working to fix it. We have received no communication from AOL at this time," Werndorfer says.

Werndorfer didn't respond to further queries about the situation. However, late in the day Friday, AOL was still disconnecting Trillian users from the AIM service and issuing the same note.

And users can expect continued resistance from AOL, McKiernan says.

"Our policy, as it has always been, is to block those hacking into our system."

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