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Developer(s)Mirabilis, AOL
Stable release
6.0 / April 17, 2007
Repository Edit this at Wikidata
Operating systemWindows, Macintosh, mobile phones
TypeInstant messaging client

ICQ is an instant messaging computer program, owned by Time Warner's AOL subsidiary. ICQ was first developed by the Israeli company Mirabilis. The first version of the program was released in November 1996. The name ICQ is an oronym on the phrase "I seek you".


ICQ features include sending text messages, offline support, multi-user chats, free daily-limited SMS sending, resumable file transfers, greeting cards and multiplayer games. Other features included a searchable user directory and POP3 email support.

ICQ users are identified by numbers called UIN, distributed in sequential order. As of ICQ 6, users are also able to log in using the specific E-Mail address they associated with their UIN during the registration process. New users are now given a UIN of well over 400,000,000, and low numbers (six or five digits) have been auctioned on eBay by users who signed up in ICQ's early days.[1] Since 2000, ICQ and AIM users are able to add each other to their contact list without the need of any external clients.[2]


UIN was coined by Mirabilis, to be used as the name of the so called Universal Internet Number or Unified Identification Number that each user of the ICQ instant messaging software is assigned upon registration[3][4]. Unlike most other instant messaging programs, in ICQ the only information that is permanent to a registered user is the UIN, although users are able to search for users by their e-mail address, much like MSN, or in fact any other detail that the user made public about himself or herself. The screen name may be changed at will, without having to re-register, as can all other kinds of user information, including e-mail.

As a response to increasing UIN theft of attractive or very short UINs by hackers, ICQ started to store email addresses previously associated to a UIN. UINs that are stolen with phishing or brute force techniques can since then be retaken by their rightful owners using the password retrieval service on ICQ.com, even after the associated primary email address has been changed or replaced by the hacker. This only applies if a valid primary email address has been entered into the user profile since 1999.

Development history

ICQ was developed in 1996 by Mirabilis. The company was founded by four young Israelis: Yair Goldfinger, Arik Vardi, Sefi Vigiser and Amnon Amir. After AOL bought it, it was managed by Ariel Yarnitsky and Avi Shechter.

America Online acquired Mirabilis on June 8, 1998 for $407 million, ($287 million in cash and $120 million over a three-year period based on growth performance levels).[5]

Later versions

ICQ 2000 and ICQ 2001 incorporated Notes and Reminder features. Both are now defunct.

On December 19, 2002, AOL Time Warner announced that ICQ had been issued a United States patent for instant messaging (U.S. Patent 6,449,344).[6]

ICQ Pro 2003b was the first ICQ version to use the ICQ protocol version 10. However, ICQ 5 and 5.1 use version 9 of the protocol. ICQ 2002 and 2003a used version 8 of the ICQ protocol. Earlier versions (ICQ 2001b and all ICQ clients before it) used ICQ protocol version 7.

ICQ 4 and later ICQ 5 (released on Monday, February 7, 2005), were upgrades on ICQ Lite — a divergence from the main ICQ program that has a big addition — Xtraz, which now offers games and features appealing to the younger users of the Internet. ICQ Lite was originally an idea to offer the lighter users of instant messaging an alternative client which was a smaller download and less resource-hungry for the (then) relatively slow computers.

While the ICQ client supported modifications of its background picture since ICQ 2003, the release of ICQ 5 introduced skins support. There are few official skins available for the current ICQ 5.1 at ICQ.com; however, a number of users have created these skins using an application called SkinBuilder and have made them available for download.[7]

ICQ 6, released on 17 April, 2007, is the next big update of ICQ since ICQ 4. The user interface has been rebuilt from the ground up using AOL's new rendering engine, Boxely (the same rendering engine used in AIM Triton), giving the client a more streamlined look, on par with MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, as well as adding new features such as the ability to send IMs directly from the client's contact list. This version's sound clips were produced/augmented by the Israeli psychedelic trance duo Infected Mushroom. More information about ICQ 6 can be found at the ICQ download page.


ICQ (ICQ "Classic"):

  • ICQ 1.111, ICQ 1.113 (1997)
  • ICQ 98a, ICQ 98b (1998)
  • ICQ 99a, ICQ 99b (1999)
  • ICQ 2000a, ICQ 2000b (2000)
  • ICQ 2001a, ICQ 2001b (2001)
  • ICQ 2002a, ICQ 2002b (2002)
  • ICQ 2003a (2003)

ICQ Pro:

  • ICQ Pro 2003b (2003)

ICQ Lite:

  • ICQ Lite
  • ICQ Lite 4 (2004)
  • ICQ 5 (2005)
  • ICQ 5.1 (2006)
  • ICQ 6 (current) (2007)

Other products

ICQ Pro came about since the emergence of ICQ Lite to differentiate between the two available clients. Though the "Pro" brand has yet to be updated, ICQ versions 4, 5 and 5.1 are in effect updates to the veteran 2003 Pro version, which is commonly considered to be "version 3".

Also available is "ICQ2Go" which is an online, minimalistic version of the fully fledged software, written in Flash, or its older version using Java.

ICQ inc. also developed an alpha version of Compad, an experimental instant messaging client similar to ICQ, though it is not available for worldwide use.

Spinoffs of ICQ included a corporate version for the workplace (named ICQ Groupware), and ICQ Surf, which displayed a list of other ICQ users who also happened to be surfing on the same website as the user was. Both programs are no longer available to download.


AOL's OSCAR network protocol used by ICQ is proprietary, but a number of people have created more or less compatible third-party clients, including:

  • Adium - supports ICQ, Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, Google Talk, and Jabber, for Mac OS X
  • Ayttm - supports ICQ, Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, IRC, and Jabber
  • centericq - supports ICQ, Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, IRC and Jabber, text-based
  • Communication Tube (Official site) - through this page you can login to ICQ, MSN, IRC, GTalk. No software will be installed on your PC.
  • Easy message (http://www.easymessage.net/) - Small instant messenger (250kb), supports MSN, AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo!.
  • eMP.CQ! (http://www.ewiz.de/blog) - Compact instant messenger, no DLL/registry spread, extensions for Unreal Tournament players
  • FAIM (Official site) - Flat Assembler Instant Messenger, the most compact ICQ client among messengers (34 Kb). No extra functions. You can participate in developing FAIM.
  • Fire - supports ICQ, Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, IRC, and Jabber, for Mac OS X
  • GnomeICU (previously GtkICQ)
  • iChat - Mac only client
  • Jimm (http://www.jimm.org/) (Java ME client, previously "Mobicq")
  • Kopete - supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber, IRC, Gadu-Gadu, Novell GroupWise Messenger, and more. For Unix/Linux.
  • Licq - supports ICQ, AIM and MSN. For Unix/Linux.
  • Meebo (Official site) - Ajax-based, supports ICQ, AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, GoogleTalk and Jabber
  • Meetro (Official site) IM and social networking combined with location; supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!
  • mICQ - text-based
  • Miranda IM - plugin based, open source, supports ICQ, Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, IRC, Google Talk, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, BNet, and others. For MS Windows only.
  • MirandaX Plus - Miranda IM preconfigured for ease of use.
  • Naim - Minimal terminal program based on ncurses
  • NanoICQ (Official site) - Supports ICQ only, uses wxPython GUI, cross-platform (Linux/Windows)
  • Pidgin (formerly Gaim) - supports ICQ, Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, SILC, and others
  • Proteus - supports ICQ, Yahoo!, Yahoo! Japan, AIM, MSN, Jabber and iChat Rendezvous, for Mac OS X
  • SIM-IM (official site)
  • stICQ - supports ICQ, for Symbian OS
  • Trillian - supports ICQ, Yahoo!, AIM, MSN, IRC, Google Talk, Jabber and others
  • QIP (Official site) Quiet Internet Pager - ICQ, AIM and public servers client
  • Yeemp - supports ICQ, AIM, and Yeemp
  • YSM - text-based
  • &RQ (ICQ)(official site) - Support ICQ only, available in Russian and English only.
  • Smarticq (official site) ICQ client for mIRC.
  • Ticq - delphi library
  • IC@
  • R&Q
  • PyICQ - jabber transport
  • libicq2000 - library included in some MacOS clients and jabber transports

AOL has recently begun making its ICQ software more AIM-like by adding AIM Smilies, as well as introducing cross AIM/ICQ communication. Users on ICQ are able to communicate with AIM users; however, such capability is in beta stages.

References in media

ICQ, a short film about ICQ, was directed by Greg McLean, who later wrote Wolf Creek. The film was described by its writer as a mystery/drama, and it concerns a man who while surfing the ICQ network comes across a woman whose acquaintance he could well have done without. The relationship runs the gauntlet of intrigue through to the sinister. It was released in 2001.

The short film took out the "Best Director" award in October 2001 at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. On return to his home soil in Australia, McLean's film was nominated for Best Sound Design (short film) for the prestigious AFI (Australian Film Institute) awards in 2002.

ICQ is referenced in the Prozzak song "It's Not Me, It's You" from their 2000 album "Saturday People"[8]: "Prophecy came true, Message coming through, Click on ICQ, Parting words of love denied are..." [9]

ICQ plays an important role in a Polish popular novel Samotność w sieci (Loneliness in the Net) as its main protagonists accidentally find each other in the Internet and, via ICQ, they develop a passionate feeling.


Acceptable Use Policy

The acceptable use policy has been criticized for containing this passage:

You agree that by posting any material or information anywhere on the ICQ Services and Information you surrender your copyright and any other proprietary right in the posted material or information. You further agree that ICQ Inc. is entitled to use at its own discretion any of the posted material or information in any manner it deems fit, including, but not limited to, publishing the material or distributing it. (ICQ Acceptable Use Policy)

It is unclear if the passage is meant to include messages sent amongst the users or just information that is meant to be publicly available, like the user profiles.

Protocol and structure

  • The protocol is proprietary and along with the license it does not allow the user to communicate with users on other services.
  • ICQ has been criticized mainly for its security. Users report receiving spam messages either from other users, or, more commonly, from ICQ bots.
  • The service is centralised, making the users dependent on the services of the only provider.
  • User accounts are identified by a (mostly 9-digit) number.
  • Lack of encryption: Messages sent via the ICQ network are sent in clear text and can thus be read easily by anyone on the communication route, in particular by the ICQ server operators. This can be remedied by the use of third party clients and/or plugins which support encryption.

Client software

  • ICQ Pro 2003b was reported to have a vulnerability (see: coresecurity). AOL is advising users of its ICQ instant messaging service to update to the latest version of the ICQ software following the discovery of a bug in an older version of the product. Although the bug doesn't affect more recent ICQ software like ICQ 5.1, it could mean serious problems for ICQ Pro 2003b users. According to Max Caceres, director of product management at Core, a vendor of penetration testing software, hackers would attack a PC by sending a maliciously encoded instant message to any ICQ Pro 2003b user connected to the service. Victims "don't have to do anything at all," Caceres says. "Just by being there, someone can send them a message, and they can be compromised."
  • ICQ Lite versions ICQ 4, ICQ 5 and ICQ 5.1 are being criticized for being not really Lite, but cluttered and heavy.
  • ICQ 5 and ICQ 5.1 are criticized for being full of too much eye-candy and some of the veteran ICQ users find the games, included in the Xtraz center as silly and only suitable for children 0-8, although ICQ software is intended for use of people above 13 years of age.[10] Some child-rights activists[citation needed] find this rule as 'strange', because children around 11 years of age, in their own words, should have the possibility of using messaging software.
  • ICQ 6 which was released on April 17, 2007, has been criticized as not yet working very well and being "no more than a beta version". Some people have problems getting the smilies, and the multichat option seems to be missing as yet. [11]

No customer support

ICQ has also been criticized for lack of customer support[1]. It is not possible to contact ICQ staff with questions or technical problems. The "Contact Us" link at the bottom of the icq website can only be used for Business, Sales and Marketing inquiries.

The customer support us usually needed when one's ICQ account is stolen (or blocked by ICQ for no apparent reason). See below.

Password retrieval system (or lack thereof)

ICQ accounts often get stolen by crackers. ICQ usually provides no help for victims, except their automated password retrieval system. In fact, the system is intended primary for people who forgot their passwords and not to those whose accounts are stolen.

The methods of stealing of accounts include:

  • A trojan/virus that is run on the victim's computer (sometimes by the victim oneself). Defense methods: never run any executable files sent to you via ICQ, even from your friends; keep your browser up-to-date; use antivirus software.
  • Using the dictionary attack on the password (this is also known as a brute force attack). Defense methods: never use simple passwords such as dictionary words, 123456, your birthdate etc.

Less common methods of password theft can be:

  • Using of internal vulnerabilities of ICQ clients in order to get the password remotely or to make it to run a program which will do the same.
  • Sniffing ICQ traffic that goes over network.
  • Retrieval of passwords that are stored on computers used in public places such as Internet cafes, etc.

A common defense method, which is recommended by ICQ itself, is to set password questions and answers (and write them down on paper) so you could use it to change your password back in case it is changed by an intruder.


ICQ sponsored various robots in Battlebots, including T-Minus and Toro.

See also

  • Comparison of instant messaging clients
  • QQ - a separate Chinese instant messenger and network which had its previous name, OICQ, in conflict with ICQ.
  • Yamigo - a service that allows ICQ chat via mobile phones over GPRS or other wireless data protocols

External links


  1. ^ Blog showing eBay auctions of UIN, 25 March, 2006. Retrieved 22 June 2006.
  2. ^ AOL quietly linking AIM, ICQ, Tech News on ZDNet, 25 September, 2000. Retrieved 22 June 2006.
  3. ^ http://www.icq.com/icqtour2000b/more.html
  4. ^ http://www.icq.com/info/press/press_release2.html
  5. ^ http://www.internetnews.com/bus-news/article.php/21011
  6. ^ US patent 6,449,344, Goldfinger, Yair; Vigiser, Sefi; Vardi, Arieh; Amnon, Amir, "Communication system", issued 2002-09-10 
  7. ^ http://www.icq-4u.com/mos/Repository/Download/ICQ/ICQ-Skins
  8. ^ http://www.cduniverse.com/search/xx/music/pid/2597736/a/Saturday+People.htm
  9. ^ http://www.lyricsdownload.com/prozzak-it-s-not-me-it-s-you-lyrics.html
  10. ^ ICQ use policy "The ICQ Services and Information are NOT FOR USE BY CHILDREN UNDER 13 YEARS OF AGE."
  11. ^ ICQ board on ICQ 6