Before I begin, let me state the following: This is my personal perspective of the history of Warez and the scene in general on America Online (AOL). How the scene developed in the beginnings, and where it has evolved to today. I also would like to thank Mat Stars, Reflux, and Da Chronic himself for their input and insight. Enjoy.
Well, as of writing this, I am 22 years old (it’s 2003 as of this writing). I chose to write this little piece on the history of AOL Warez (at least from my perspective) for two primary reasons. Firstly, it may sound ‘lame’ or whatever, but I’ve been involved in the scene in one form or another since I was 10 years old… so that’s 12 years and counting. For better or for worse, AOL Warez has played a part in my life, and it’s something I don’t wish to ignore or forget as I get older, so this is a good reminder document for me. Secondly, being the “wise sage” that I am, I feel it may be of benefit or interest to others to share my experiences and knowledge about the history of the scene.
To be fully honest, I don’t know or recall exactly how *I* first got involved. I know it was when I had a 2400 baud modem, and was trading old software (DOS, 16 color games, etc) through single line BBS’s, around 1991 I believe. I first began using AOL 2.0 back in 1993, when the first version of AOL for Microsoft Windows was released. Yes, I had tried AOL for DOS (back then, there was no version number) in 1991, but at that point, AOL was called Quantum Computer Services. And in case anyone is wondering why AOL has always “been so easy to use,” it’s because it was originally designed for the Macintosh and Apple II. Anyhow, at this point there were fewer than 1 million subscribers, chat service did not exist, and the scene had not yet been born. Obviously, this is also pre-unlimited use per month days (which did not occur until 1996).
With the advent of 9600 baud modems, public chat rooms, and soon the private rooms which began spawning on the AOL service. Back then, the internet was not for everyone. Only tech savvy people who knew what was going on ever logged on to the internet during this time period, and by tech savvy, I’m referring to people such as myself: young, adolescent boys, with a curiosity of technology and sense of adventure. (Yes, I consider myself the Tom Sawyer of the modern age). Anyways, enough background information, on to the creation of the scene…
Primarily through word of mouth, news spread about free programs being offered in chat rooms for trade and download. Prior to this, I had been doing BBS trading on boards such as Iniquity and Eternity. On AOL, this was first done in public chat rooms; soon of course, people migrated to private rooms, and the creation of the “warez” series of rooms. For teenage boys who wanted free software, and to be part of the “in” club, things were going great. But something was missing. Along came a man, calling himself “Da Chronic.” Now, if you don’t know of this nick name, stop reading beyond here, you don’t belong. Da Chronic, who at the time was a 17 year old high school student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, created the first of what was to become literally thousands of programs for use on AOL, none other than “AOHell.” A fairly simple program created in Visual Basic, AOHell reached a level of popularity which has never been equaled or even rivaled (no, don’t tell me FateX was more popular, it was not). AOHell allowed people to do several basic things. Firstly, it allowed anyone, his sister, mother and dog, to create fake accounts on AOL using randomly generated information. Secondly, it had a few built in macro’s, the most popular of which was the “scrolling middle finger.” Third, you could “email bomb” or “IM bomb” people, and just be generally disruptive, which was the true intent of Da Chronic. The original version of AOHell was released around November 1994.
So at this time, AOL didn’t really do a whole lot to stop the spread of Warez on their system. I’m sure they regret this now. Had they been aggressive in the early stages of the development of the scene, I am positive that it would not have survived, just as it did not on other similar services, such as Compuserve and Prodigy. All AOL did was modify the account sign up process. Essentially, they changed the checking account creation to have some sort of validation period, and basically that was about it for a while. Of course, that didn’t stop us. Some brilliant person figured out the now infamous ‘5396’ MasterCard prefix. Simply by having the correct 4 digit CC prefix, you could still create fake accounts fairly quickly, and AOHell and similar programs automated the process for you.
The “scene” as an organized community did not establish itself until the middle of 1995, probably during the summer months. Prior to this time, such a thing as “free warez” did not exist. You traded for programs/games/utilities etc. Then along game the first known organized group, dedicated to the “free warez” concept, SHiZZa. Basically, group members from SHiZZa went around warez rooms (now being called such things as ‘cold’ or ‘thin’ ice, since the word “warez” had been banned), and recruited new members. This was taken a step further by FWA (the Free Warez Alliance, which claimed to have created the ‘freewarez’ series of private rooms, once the ‘ice’ series was also banned). Other people quickly followed suit, and created groups of their own, most notably, UPS, MySTiC, and SNT which were formed within weeks or months of SHiZZa. Groups worthy of mention who came about in the second and third waves, include Synapse and iMaGe (which iMaGe was formed via merger of Gen-X and Digital) who then later on merged to form what is now Legion, DGG (which spawned off Arise), WaY (which died off), Logic (which moved to I-Net only), and OsW (died off). I’m sure there were other groups during this time, but these are the most important and prominent ones (and the ones which I can still remember). The three dominant groups during this time were UPS, MySTiC and WaY (the latter of which, I was a part of for a few short weeks). UPSS by the way, (the AOL arm of UPS), was the first group to begin “massmailing” Warez with automated programs, and WaY took it a step further when CooLziE created IcE DroP MM’er, the first stable, fast, and fully automated MM program (it could both collect screen names from a chat room where people signed up, and then MM them all on its own).
It was also during this time when “phishing” for accounts was ever so popular. Stupid new AOL’ers just seemed to love sharing their accounts with people. At that time, it was almost too easy to steal passwords since no one made unique, hard to guess pw’s. I remember trying out passwords like sex123 and getting into accounts with ease. Of course, the other major thing which was going on was “carding.” Once you stole a person’s CC information (or more often, they ‘volunteered’ it, you could go to places such as buy.com and FedEx shit using that stolen CC info, and within a few days have a new computer, or stereo or whatever your heart desired. Now, this is a simplified explanation of how ‘phishing’ and ‘carding’ both worked, but I am not going to get into the details of those two scenes; I merely wanted to mention them because they were loosely associated with the Warez scene.
Then of course, came the crack downs in 1996. CATwatch automated sentinels were placed on AOL's warez chat channels, logging off anyone who entered. "Free" accounts were traced and nuked. Address verification systems were created to authentic all types of online transactions. AOL began warning its members of its policy of “never asking for your password or credit card.” Off the AOL scene, major release groups such as Razor 1911, Drink or Die, Inner Circle, Class, Pirates with Attitudes were targeted by authorities repeatedly. That was the “dark age” of Warez (which of course lasted only a year, but still). However, the scene would soon rebuild and be back better than ever before.
By now we are in 1997 already, and some of the ‘old school’ groups had died off, and new ones such as Arise, PaS, and Legion, (along with good ‘ol UPS) had become the dominant groups. From 1997 to 2000, I would say a good thousand groups came and went, some with a bang, others without notice. Groups I have not yet mentioned which I feel are of some worthy note include Legend, FoCuS, GoH, ink, MiRaGE. Three things to mention about this time period; first, this is the era in which every group was “allied” with one another, which basically didn’t mean a goddamn thing, except that supposedly you wouldn’t TOS another group’s member account or something. Secondly, every group had their “security” personnel, which again, didn’t mean a goddamn thing, since 99% of these groups did not have IRC chat rooms back then, and so security from what? Steve Case? I always found that funny. And third, most of these groups consisted of a President, Vice-President, and 15 members who were the President or V.P., but different screen names they used to make their group look larger; of course the majority of these groups didn’t last, hence the terms “3 month summer crew” or “2 dollar Warez group” came about. Still though, without these groups, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The final group I want to mention is Premium, whom my friend chaos helped co-found; always thought of as the “newbie” group, but over time established themselves as one of the bedrock foundations of AOL Warez.
You may be wondering why I have made no mention of “0-day Warez.” Mainly, because I was never really directly involved in that stuff and don’t have much knowledge about it. Let’s be honest, the vast majority of programs released each day are worthless pieces of crap. Who honestly gives a fuck if you are the first person to upload the newest version of a program that no one cares about? Yea, you got big balls alright… and no brains. Good fucking job bonehead. Not to rag on 0-day groups… they do an important job. But on AOL, is 0-day Warez really needed? I doubt it; in fact, I think most people would prefer a group keep a working copy of a 5 month old game on their lists instead of the newest piece of 0-day worthless software.
Another two items I have not yet mentioned were the Audio and Porn scenes on AOL. I was never heavily involved in either, but had friends who were. TuNeZ was the first major group on AOL to begin distributing music, which back then was in *.wav format since mp3’s did not yet exist. Once mp3’s began to become the dominant music format, the major group for many years on the scene was AuDiO, led by ZiGGy, and some other peoples. Other major mp3 groups of the early days included BadByz and PhreeMP3. There were plenty of other groups, and many Warez groups also had mp3 divisions for a while, but I don’t care to discuss them at length. As you might imagine, there has always been porn on AOL. Ever since I could first remember using AOL, porn has existed. The most famous, dedicated and long lasting group is none other than ESP, which has been around since 1997, and continues to spew out some great stuff even today.
Now, the biggest thing, besides the idea of free Warez on AOL, was of course, serving, instead of mass-mailing. Who exactly created the FIRST serving program, I do not know. However I know that among the very earliest was Entity for AOL 2.5 (which also worked for 2.0), by my friend BoFeN, who later went on to create the “Millennium” line of serving and mm’ing programs. After that, many of the famous early serving programs include Scream Server, Soylent Green, Ao-NiN 98 created by MemberTwo (known as the most stable server of the time), Unreal mm’er/server by eviction, and then of course BLiZzaRD by NoVa, which was the first serving program to work across multiple versions of AOL, both 16 and 32 bit. MM’ing was still important, particular inter-group MM’s. Popular MM programs I can remember were of course Turbo iCe Drop by CooLziE (the original, automated MM program for AOL 2.5), WaaS by SLaYeR, which was another one of the very early serving programs, GreeN mass mailer by everyone’s favorite coder dude, bmxer, and Krylon Cans by fin. It’s funny, as I write this, I’m thinking.. whatever happened to these guys, bmxer, fin, BoFen, NoVa… I knew all of them back in the day; wonder if they work at some software company now or something. If any of you guys should ever happen to read this, hit me up sometime goddamnit. Also, all those useful little utility progs! The 45-minute and anti-idle killers, Phantom auto-tagger, and the auto-tagger by foog, screen name reset by seven, and dead mail checker by TrU (didn’t come around until AOL began killing files off). I’m not going to even bother getting into programs like HaVoK, LuciferX, FateX, and the unlimited number of other ones which were made, I don’t consider those things to have been vital to the success of the scene at all, and most were pretty annoying.
My personal experience with the AOL scene (after leaving, and then returning during the summer of 1998) was mostly with Arise. Yes, I had created my own “3 month summer group” prior to that, which basically retagged UPS or Legion Warez. But when I joined Arise, things changed for me. It was the first time I saw the foundation of the community, based on IRC. Yes, I had used IRC previously in my BBS days, but it had changed, and a lot more people were around now. Early in 1999, I was promoted to President of Arise, and began to run the daily operations of the group with a few close ‘online friends.’ I ran things for about a year, until in early 2000 when I took a leave of absence from the group and scene in general. I returned late in the year of 2000 to find a scene which was being battered down by increased monitoring by AOL, which was now really doing whatever it could to combat Warez (and mp3/porn to a lesser degree). This is the time of killing random uploads so that a 20-part game would be unplayable since part number 19 was ‘missing.’ Groups at this time began experimenting more with things such as xDCC transfers through IRC, X-Drive’s on the internet, FTP usage en masse, all of which failed to be made available to the masses of AOL’ers who just never seem to be able to go anywhere better than a private chat room (where we ALL once started out, I remind you). By early 2002, I had once again left the group, this time for good, because of increasing demands of work and college… unfortunately, we all have to grow up at some point it seems. Of course, throughout the years, I made many good friends, and I still keep in contact with a number of them on a regular basis.
Now, the way I see it, from 1998 until about the end of 2002, there have been 4 groups which have dominated the scene with reliability. UPS, the oldest of these groups still exists today; Legion is still around, as is Arise, and of course, was Premium. Now, all four of these groups have gone through their ‘downtimes’ in which their production was minimal or nonexistent, and yet, they all survive, recruit anew, and come back strong as ever. The difference is, the backbones of these groups are always lurking around in the shadows, while other groups tend to just breakup and die whenever things become difficult on AOL, and these four groups remain focused, strategize, and proceed with plans. They are flexible to try new things, but always remain true to the purpose of their organizations: the free spread of Warez on AOL. In the past 4 or 5 years, hundreds of groups have come and gone, some lasting only weeks, others a few years, and others merging with one another. Groups from this time period which I want to give honorable mention to are Relik/React (which I believe were both born from FoCuS), Liquid, mob, and RaaO; again, I am positive there are many groups of value whom I did not include. I simply cannot remember every one of them, as there were many.
The next thing AOL did to combat Warez was limiting the amount of mail people can send out in a certain period of time. Answer to this problem? White-listing, in which you get your screen name placed on a special list which then has access to unlimited bulk email sending. No matter what tactics AOL tries to employ, they fail to realize who they are dealing with: young, adolescent boys whose passion in life it is to find ways to defeat AOL. We thrive in times of difficulty, we love the challenge, and the boasting about it to all our peers when we come out on top, it’s what we live for, and it’s in our blood. Nothing makes me happier than when I go into ‘cerver’ rooms (what they are frequently called these days), and see 2 or 3 active servers and a room full of AOL’ers requesting files like no tomorrow. As I always joke with buddies on IRC, I hope the scene exists years down the line, I surely want my son to be involved, and maybe become President of Arise or some other group, as should all of you.
When I first began writing this article in January of 2003, my original inspiration came from a similar piece I had seen on allied.org. I make no guarantee of that site still being around when YOU read this, and although it hasn’t been updated in years, it is still a site worth checking out if you have the time. Three final AOL Warez groups I wanted to mention are Infinite, Solution, and Imperial. These are 3 relatively newer groups, which have come into their own as of late. I know many members from these groups; some are ex-members from groups such as Arise or Legion. These three, along with Arise, Legion and UPS, and the dominant groups of the scene. Sadly missing from this list, you might be wondering, is Premium. Due to lack of new recruits, and increased difficulty in serving, they were forced to shut down operations. From what I have heard, a new problem has arisen lately- terminating of accounts, and shutting down the popular ‘cerver’ series of rooms. It’s just another attempt by AOL to end the Warez trade on their system, which I doubt will ever happen. Solutions to every problem always exist, some just take a while to figure out.
Well about one full year after I began this article, I decided to make an update to it, as some things have changed. It's January 2004 at this point, and I think that 1 update a year is pretty good for this page. So anyhow, things which have changed are that my old group, Arise, is no more. I was shocked and saddened to hear the news directly from EviL (the founder of Arise), that after a long, drawn out struggle to attract new members, the group had finally decided to shutter it's doors. I wish I had known about it, and I even though about calling him on the phone to bitch his ass out about giving up, but I am not much involved in the AOL scene these days and I don't see what good that would have done. Also from what I've seen and heard, most people from AOL have finally migrated to IRC when they want to obtain their Warez. It seems as though AOL has been very successful as of late in their quest to end the trading of illegal programs through their service, and although there are a few brave men who continue to serve and mm there, most have moved on to the unregulated worlds of IRC. It appears like the scene is going through another dark phase right now, as the levels of activity have dropped since I was last around, but as always, I am positive that new ways will be found, and we will refuse to be defeated as a community. See you all next year.
This history of AOL Warez is MY viewpoint on the development of the scene. I am sure I left out some important things, maybe got some facts or dates or other information wrong, and what not. And certainly, I don’t claim that it is in any way complete or final. If you remember something of IMPORTANCE which was left out (no, I don’t care about your 3 week stint in some unknown Warez group, or about the super elite hax0rish punter program you made that no one used), please feel free to contact me and let me know, or if you just want to chat about the old days.