America Online yesterday admitted that it’s security had been infiltrated by hackers who gained access to members' accounts via an email-borne virus.

"A small number of member accounts may have been illegally viewed," conceded an AOL spoke. "We are aware of claims that a small number of member accounts were illegally accessed. We take these claims seriously," he said.

Emulating the ILoveYou virus that temporarily paralysed millions of computers last month - albeit on a much smaller scale - the security breach highlights the vulnerability even of a giant such as AOL to hacker attackers.

Their strategy targeted AOL customer service representatives with e-mails containing a virus attachment which, when opened, connected to the sender's computer and gained access to AOL members’ account details, including names, addresses and credit card details.

AOL is playing down the impact of the attack, claiming that the hackers had not penetrated its main 23m-member database.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)