I was thirteen or fourteen during the latter half of the 90's when AOL was still a thing. I discovered programs (progz as they were known back then) that you could use to punt people off of AOL via instant message, or spam chat room messages with ascii art, or any number of things that an obnoxious 14 year old kid would take pleasure in. I also discovered that some of these progz included source code, so naturally I was curious.
I studied the source code and learned an alarming amount of the Win32 API as an adolescent and eventually became proficient in writing these programs myself. I was also introduced to "affiliate programs" for certain kinds of websites, in particular websites owned and operated outside of the US that would allow you to sign up as an affiliate without having to prove your age or provide a SSN. I wrote spamming software that implemented the AOL Instant Messenger protocol and would scrape AOL chat rooms for people to message. This thing ran over a dial-up connection, had reconnect logic, and supported connecting an arbitrary number of AIM accounts to circumvent rate limiting.
Naturally, I had acquaintances who wanted to get in on it. I showed them how to do the affiliate sign up, how to set up a web page for banners, and provided them with a spammer that I could remotely configure to send a percentage of messages to advertise my banner portal. I pulled in anywhere from $500-$1000 a month which, for a teenager, was a lot.
Then I turned 18 and at least had the sense to find more legitimate means of making money. I knew it would involve programming, and well, here I am nearly 16 years later working as a programmer.
Quick edit and funny note about the AOL punting thing
It's so funny to think how insecure software was back then. To punt someone off AOL all you had to do was send them the following message:
<font size=999999999999999>peace out sucka!</font>
It was a simple buffer overflow caused by specifying a font size exceeding 32-bits. The worst part is that punting was super common and it took AOL YEARS to fix it!
This reminds me of crashing someone's Messages app on their iPhone by sending huge emoji texts... I guess some things haven't changed, lol!
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