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.
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 →