Posts Tagged: email bomb


30
Aug 17

Twitter Bots Use Likes, RTs for Intimidation

I awoke this morning to find my account on Twitter (@briankrebs) had attracted almost 12,000 new followers overnight. Then I noticed I’d gained almost as many followers as the number of re-tweets (RTs) earned for a tweet I published on Tuesday. The tweet stated how every time I tweet something related to Russian President Vladimir Putin I get a predictable stream of replies that are in support of President Trump — even in cases when neither Trump nor the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign were mentioned.

This tweet about Putin generated more than 12,000 retweets and likes in a few hours.

This tweet about Putin generated more than 12,000 retweets and likes in a few hours.

Upon further examination, it appears that almost all of my new followers were compliments of a social media botnet that is being used to amplify fake news and to intimidate journalists, activists and researchers. The botnet or botnets appear to be targeting people who are exposing the extent to which sock puppet and bot accounts on social media platforms can be used to influence public opinion.

After tweeting about my new bounty of suspicious-looking Twitter friends I learned from my legitimate followers on Twitter that @briankrebs wasn’t alone and that several journalists and nonprofit groups that have written recently about bot-like activity on Twitter experienced something similar over the past few days.

These tweet and follow storms seem capable of tripping some kind of mechanism at Twitter that seeks to detect when accounts are suspected of artificially beefing up their follower counts by purchasing followers (for more on that dodgy industry, check out this post).

Earlier today, Daily Beast cybersecurity reporter Joseph Cox had his Twitter account suspended temporarily after the account was the beneficiary of hundreds of bot followers over a brief period on Tuesday. This likely was the goal in the campaign against my site as well.

Cox observed the same likely bot accounts that followed him following me and a short list of other users in the same order.

Cox observed the same likely bot accounts that followed him following me and a short list of other users in the same order.

“Right after my Daily Beast story about suspicious activity by pro-Kremlin bots went live, my own account came under attack,” Cox wrote.

Let that sink in for a moment: A huge collection of botted accounts — the vast majority of which should be easily detectable as such — may be able to abuse Twitter’s anti-abuse tools to temporarily shutter the accounts of real people suspected of being bots!

Overnight between Aug. 28 and 29, a large Twitter botnet took aim at the account for the Digital Forensic Research Lab, a project run by the Atlantic Council, a political think-tank based in Washington, D.C. In a post about the incident, DFRLab said the attack used fake accounts to impersonate and attack its members.

Those personal attacks — which included tweets and images lamenting the supposed death of DFR senior fellow Ben Nimmo — were then amplified and re-tweeted by tens of thousands of apparently automated accounts, according to a blost post published today by DFRLab.

Suspecting that DFRLab was now being followed by many more botted accounts that might retweet or otherwise react to any further tweets mentioning bot attacks, Nimmo cleverly composed another tweet about the bot attack — only this time CC’ing the @Twitter and @Twittersupport accounts. Sure enough, that sly tweet was retweeted by bots more than 73,000 times before the tweet storm died down.

tweetbotattack

“We considered that the bots had probably been programmed to react to a relatively simple set of triggers, most likely the words ‘bot attack’ and the @DFRLab handle,” Nimmo wrote. “To test the hypothesis, we posted a tweet mentioning the same words, and were retweeted over 500 times in nine minutes — something which, admittedly, does not occur regularly with our human followers.” Read more about the DFRLab episode here.

This week’s Twitter bot drama follows similar attacks on public interest groups earlier this month. On Aug. 19, the award-winning investigative journalism site ProPublica.org published the story, Leading Tech Companies Help Extremist Sites Monetize Hate.

On the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 22, several ProPublica reporters began receiving email bombs — email list subscription attacks that can inundate a targeted inbox with dozens or even hundreds of email list subscription confirmation requests per minute. These attacks are designed to deluge the victim’s inbox with so many subscription confirmation requests that it becomes extremely time-consuming to fish out the legitimate messages amid the dross.

On Wednesday ProPublica author Jeff Larson saw a tweet he sent about the email attacks get re-tweeted 1,200 times. Later that evening, senior reporting fellow Lauren Kirchner noticed a similar sized response to her tweet about how the subscription attack was affecting her ability to respond to messages.

On top of that, several ProPublica staffers suddenly gained about 500 new followers. On Thursday, ProPublica’s managing editor Eric Umansky noticed that a tweet accusing ProPublica of being an “alt-left #HateGroup and #FakeNews site funded by Soros” had received more than 23,000 re-tweets. Continue reading →


18
Aug 16

Massive Email Bombs Target .Gov Addresses

Over the weekend, unknown assailants launched a massive cyber attack aimed at flooding targeted dot-gov (.gov) email inboxes with subscription requests to thousands of email lists. According to experts, the attack — designed to render the targeted inboxes useless for a period of time — was successful largely thanks to the staggering number of email newsletters that don’t take the basic step of validating new signup requests.

These attacks apparently have been going on at a low level for weeks, but they intensified tremendously over this past weekend. This most recent assault reportedly involved more than 100 government email addresses belonging to various countries that were subscribed to large numbers of lists in a short space of time by the attacker(s). That’s according to Spamhaus, an entity that keeps a running list of known spamming operations to which many of the world’s largest Internet service providers (ISPs) subscribe.

What my inbox looked like on Saturday, Aug. 13. Yours Truly and apparently at least 100 .gov email addresses got hit with an email bombing attack.

What my inbox looked like on Saturday, Aug. 13. Yours Truly and apparently at least 100 .gov email addresses got hit with an email bombing attack.

When Spamhaus lists a swath of Internet address space as a source of junk email, ISPs usually stop routing email for organizations within those chunks of addresses. On Sunday, Spamhaus started telling ISPs to block email coming from some of the largest email service providers (ESPs) — companies that help some of the world’s biggest brands reach customers via email. On Monday, those ESPs soon began hearing from their clients who were having trouble getting their marketing emails delivered.

In two different posts published at wordtothewise.com, Spamhaus explained its reasoning for the listings, noting that a great many of the organizations operating the lists that were spammed in the attack did not bother to validate new signups by asking recipients to click a confirmation link in an email. In effect, Spamhaus reasoned, their lack of email validation caused them to behave in a spammy fashion.

“The issue is the badly-run ‘open’ lists which happily subscribed every address without any consent verification and which now continue as participants in the list-bombing of government addresses,” wrote Spamhaus CEO Steve Linford. It remains unclear whether hacked accounts at ESPs also played a role.

Also writing for wordtothewise.com, Laura Atkins likened email subscription bombs like this to “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks on individuals.

“They get so much mail from different places they are unable to use their mailbox for real mail,” she wrote. “The hostile traffic can’t be blocked because the mail is coming from so many different sources.”

Atkins said over 100 addresses were added to mailing lists, many from Internet addresses outside the United States.

“The volumes I’m hearing here are significantly high that people cannot use their mailboxes. One sender identified fewer than 10 addresses each signed up to almost 10,000 of their customer lists during a 2 week period,” Atkins wrote. “Other senders have identified addresses that look to be part of the harassment campaign and are working to block mail to those addresses and get them off their lists.” Continue reading →