Posts Tagged: Ron Guilmette

Aug 16

The Reincarnation of a Bulletproof Hoster

In April 2016, security firm Trend Micro published a damning report about a Web hosting provider referred to only as a “cyber-attack facilitator in the Netherlands.” If the Trend analysis lacked any real punch that might have been because — shortly after the report was published — names were redacted so that it was no longer immediately clear who the bad hosting provider was. This post aims to shine a bit more light on the individuals apparently behind this mysterious rogue hosting firm — a company called HostSailor[dot]com.

The Trend report observes that the unnamed, Netherlands-based virtual private sever (VPS) hosting provider appears to have few legitimate customers, and that the amount of abuse emanating from it “is so staggering that this company will remain on our watchlist in the next few months.”


What exactly is the awfulness spewing from the company that Trend takes great pains not to name as For starters, according to Trend’s data (PDF) HostSailor has long been a home for attacks tied to a Russian cyber espionage campaign dubbed “Pawn Storm.” From the report:

“Pawn Storm seems to feel quite at home. They used the VPS hosting company for at least 80 attacks since May 2015. Their attacks utilized C&C servers, exploit sites, spear-phishing campaigns, free Webmail phishing sites targeting high profile users, and very specific credential phishing sites against Government agencies of countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Malaysia, Montenegro, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Arab Emirates. Pawn Storm also uses the VPS provider in the Netherlands for domestic espionage in Russia regularly.”

“Apart from Pawn Storm, a less sophisticated group of threat actors called DustySky (PDF link added) is using the VPS provider. These actors target Israel, companies who do business in Israel, Egypt and some other Middle Eastern governments.”


Trend’s report on HostSailor points to a LinkedIn profile for an Alexander Freeman at HostSailor who lists his location as Dubai. HostSailor’s Web site says the company has servers in The Netherlands and in Romania, and that it is based in Dubai. The company first came online in early 2013.

Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam researcher who tipped me off to the Trend report and whose research has been featured several times on this blog, reached out to Freeman via email. Guilmette later posted at the mailing list the vitriolic and threatening response he said he received in reply.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

Perhaps Mr. Freeman’s ire was previously leveled at Trend Micro, which could explain their redaction of the name “HostSailor” from its report. A spokesperson for Trend Micro declined to explain why the company redacted its own report post-publication, saying only that “at the time of publication, we were following our standard disclosure protocol.”

In any case, I began to suspect that “Alexander Freeman” was just a pseudonym (Trend noted this suspicion in its report as well). In combing through the historic WHOIS registration records for the domain, I noticed that the domain name changed hands sometime in late 2012. Sure enough, a simple Google search popped up this thread at back in Dec. 2012, which was started by a Jordan Peterson who says he’s looking to sell

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, Mr. Peterson said the person who responded about purchasing the domain was named Ali Al-Attiyah, and that this individual used the following email addresses:

“I remember Ali telling me he didn’t have a paypal so a friend sent me the money for the domain, I looked up the paypal info for you and [Ali’s friend’s] name is Khalid Cook,,” Peterson told me. “The legal information for the domain transfer was given as:

152-160 City Road
London ec1v 2nx

That street address corresponds to a business named “,” which offers call answering services for companies that wish to list a prestigious London address without actually having a physical presence there.

Ali Al-Attiyah is listed as the official registrant of and several other very similar domains. More interesting, however, is that email address given for Mr. Khalid Cook: According to a “reverse WHOIS” search ordered from, that Yahoo email address was used in the original registration records for exactly one domain:

Santrex (better known on as “Scamtrex“) was an extremely dodgy “bulletproof hosting” company — essentially a mini-ISP that specializes in offering services that are largely immune from takedown requests and pressure from Western law enforcement agencies. At the time, Google’s Safebrowsing database warned that almost 90 percent of the sites on Santrex’s network were attempting to foist malicious software on visitors or were hosting malware used in online attacks.

Santrex was forced out of business in early 2013, after the company’s core servers were massively hacked and the PayPal and credit card accounts it used to accept payments from customers were reportedly seized by unknown parties. In its final days as a hosting provider, Santrex’s main voice on — a user named “khalouda” — posted many rants that eerily echo the invective leveled at Guilmette by HostSailor’s Mr. Freeman.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.


Continue reading →

Jul 16

Carbanak Gang Tied to Russian Security Firm?

Among the more plunderous cybercrime gangs is a group known as “Carbanak,” Eastern European hackers blamed for stealing more than a billion dollars from banks. Today we’ll examine some compelling clues that point to a connection between the Carbanak gang’s staging grounds and a Russian security firm that claims to work with some of the world’s largest brands in cybersecurity.

The Carbanak gang derives its name from the banking malware used in countless high-dollar cyberheists. The gang is perhaps best known for hacking directly into bank networks using poisoned Microsoft Office files, and then using that access to force bank ATMs into dispensing cash. Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimates that the Carbanak Gang has likely stolen upwards of USD $1 billion — but mostly from Russian banks.

Image: Kaspersky

Image: Kaspersky

I recently heard from security researcher Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam crusader whose sleuthing has been featured on several occasions on this site and in the blog I wrote for The Washington Post. Guilmette said he’d found some interesting commonalities in the original Web site registration records for a slew of sites that all have been previously responsible for pushing malware known to be used by the Carbanak gang.

For example, the domains “weekend-service[dot]com” “coral-trevel[dot]com” and “freemsk-dns[dot]com” all were documented by multiple security firms as distribution hubs for Carbanak crimeware. Historic registration or “WHOIS” records maintained by for all three domains contain the same phone and fax numbers for what appears to be a Xicheng Co. in China — 1066569215 and 1066549216, each preceded by either a +86 (China’s country code) or +01 (USA). Each domain record also includes the same contact address: ““.

According to data gathered by ThreatConnect, a threat intelligence provider [full disclosure: ThreatConnect is an advertiser on this blog], at least 484 domains were registered to the address or to one of 26 other email addresses that listed the same phone numbers and Chinese company.  “At least 304 of these domains have been associated with a malware plugin [that] has previously been attributed to Carbanak activity,” ThreatConnect told KrebsOnSecurity.

Going back to those two phone numbers, 1066569215 and 1066549216; at first glance they appear to be sequential, but closer inspection reveals they differ slightly in the middle. Among the very few domains registered to those Chinese phone numbers that haven’t been seen launching malware is a Web site called “cubehost[dot]biz,” which according to records was registered in Sept. 2013 to a 28-year-old Artem Tveritinov of Perm, Russia.

Cubehost[dot]biz is a dormant site, but it appears to be the sister property to a Russian security firm called Infocube (also spelled “Infokube”). The InfoKube web site — — is also registered to Mr. Tveritinov of Perm, Russia; there are dozens of records in the WHOIS history for, but only the oldest, original record from 2011 contains the email address 

That same email address was used to register a four-year-old profile account at the popular Russian social networking site Vkontakte for Artyom “LioN” Tveritinov from Perm, Russia. The “LioN” bit is an apparent reference to an Infokube anti-virus product by the same name. Continue reading →

Nov 14

Network Hijackers Exploit Technical Loophole

Spammers have been working methodically to hijack large chunks of Internet real estate by exploiting a technical and bureaucratic loophole in the way that various regions of the globe keep track of the world’s Internet address ranges.

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity featured an in-depth piece about a well-known junk email artist who acknowledged sending from two Bulgarian hosting providers. These two providers had commandeered tens of thousands of Internet addresses from ISPs around the globe, including Brazil, China, India, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan and Vietnam.

For example, a closer look at the Internet addresses hijacked by one of the Bulgarian providers — aptly named “Mega-Spred” with an email contact of “abuse@grimhosting” — shows that this provider has been slowly  gobbling up far-flung IP address ranges since late August 2014.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC -- of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC — of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

According to several security and anti-spam experts who’ve been following this activity, Mega-Spred and the other hosting provider in question (known as Kandi EOOD) have been taking advantage of an administrative weakness in the way that some countries and regions of the world keep tabs on the IP address ranges assigned to various hosting providers and ISPs. Neither Kandi nor Mega-Spred responded to requests for comment.

IP address hijacking is hardly a new phenomenon. Spammers sometimes hijack Internet address ranges that go unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker.

Experts say the hijackers also are exploiting a fundamental problem with record-keeping activities of RIPE NCC, the regional Internet registry (RIR) that oversees the allocation and registration of IP addresses for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. RIPE is one of several RIRs, including ARIN (which handles mostly North American IP space) and APNIC (Asia Pacific), LACNIC (Latin America) and AFRINIC (Africa). Continue reading →

Nov 14

Still Spamming After All These Years

A long trail of spam, dodgy domains and hijacked Internet addresses leads back to a 37-year-old junk email purveyor in San Diego who was the first alleged spammer to have been criminally prosecuted 13 years ago for blasting unsolicited commercial email.

atballLast month, security experts at Cisco blogged about spam samples caught by the company’s SpamCop service, which maintains a blacklist of known spam sources. When companies or Internet service providers learn that their address ranges are listed on spam blacklists, they generally get in touch with the blacklister to determine and remediate the cause for the listing (because usually at that point legitimate customers of the blacklisted company or ISP are having trouble sending email).

In this case, a hosting firm in Ireland reached out to Cisco to dispute being listed by SpamCop, insisting that it had no spammers on its networks. Upon investigating further, the hosting company discovered that the spam had indeed come from its Internet addresses, but that the addresses in question weren’t actually being hosted on its network. Rather, the addresses had been hijacked by a spam gang.

Spammers sometimes hijack Internet address ranges that go unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker (for another example of IP address hijacking, also known as “network identity theft,” check out this story I wrote for The Washington Post back in 2008).

So who’s benefitting from the Internet addresses wrested from the Irish hosting company? According to Cisco, the addresses were hijacked by Mega-Spred and Visnet, hosting providers in Bulgaria and Romania, respectively. But what of the spammers using this infrastructure?

One of the domains promoted in the spam that caused this ruckus — unmetegulzoo[dot]com — leads to some interesting clues. It was registered recently by a Mike Prescott in San Diego, to the email address That email was used to register more than 1,100 similarly spammy domains that were recently seen in junk email campaigns (for the complete list, see this CSV file compiled by

Enter Ron Guilmette, an avid anti-spam researcher who tracks spammer activity not by following clues in the junk email itself but by looking for patterns in the way spammers use the domains they’re advertising in their spam campaigns. Guilmette stumbled on the domains registered to the Mike Prescott address while digging through the registration records on more than 14,000 spam-advertised domains that were all using the same method (Guilmette asked to keep that telltale pattern out of this story so as not to tip off the spammers, but I have seen his research and it is solid).

persaud-fbOf the 5,000 or so domains in that bunch that have accessible WHOIS registration records, hundreds of them were registered to variations on the Mike Prescott email address and to locations in San Diego. Interestingly, one email address found in the registration records for hundreds of domains advertised in this spam campaign was registered to a “” in San Diego, which also happens to be the email address tied to the Facebook account for one Michael Persaud in San Diego.

Persaud is an unabashed bulk emailer who’s been sued by AOL, the San Diego District Attorney’s office and by anti-spam activists multiple times over the last 15 years. Reached via email, Persaud doesn’t deny registering the domains in question, and admits to sending unsolicited bulk email for a variety of “clients.” But Persaud claims that all of his spam campaigns adhere to the CAN-SPAM Act, the main anti-spam law in the United States — which prohibits the sending of spam that spoofs that sender’s address and which does not give recipients an easy way to opt out of receiving future such emails from that sender.

As for why his spam was observed coming from multiple hijacked Internet address ranges, Persaud said he had no idea. Continue reading →

Mar 11

WHOIS Problem Reporting System to Gain Privacy Option

A system that allows anti-spam activists to report entities that bulk-register domain names using false or misleading identity data is about to gain a much-needed new privacy feature: The option for activists not to expose their identities to the very spammers they’re trying to report.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees the Internet’s domain name system, runs a program called the WHOIS Data Problem Reporting System (WDPRS). It’s designed to allow Internet community members to alert registrars about customers that list incomplete or inaccurate contact records for domain registrations.

The policy of requiring registrars to make WHOIS data publicly searchable is no doubt a contentious one, but the reality is that spammers and scammers frequently bulk register large numbers of domains in one go, and tend to take their business to registrars that don’t ask too many questions. Indeed, some domain registrars have built a business out of catering to spammers and scammers.

In many cases, spammers will mass-register domains using completely bogus contact information, or — as appears to have been the case with hundreds of domains that were used recently in an attack against — with the contact information belonging to people whose stolen credit cards were used to fraudulently register the spammy domains.

Some anti-spam activists have pursued bulk registrants with false WHOIS data because, under ICANN’s rules, registrars are supposed to investigate and eventually suspend domains whose owners fail to respond to requests to verify or correct false WHOIS data. And in direct response to a massive influx of reporting on these domains by such activists, ICANN built the WPDRS.

But at some point, ICANN began sharing the names and email addresses of people who were reporting the erroneous WHOIS information with the registrars for each offending domain, exposing the identities of any anti-spam activists who used their real contact information in reporting the issues to ICANN.

Continue reading →