Posts Tagged: spamhaus

Aug 16

Inside ‘The Attack That Almost Broke the Internet’

In March 2013, a coalition of spammers and spam-friendly hosting firms pooled their resources to launch what would become the largest distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack the Internet had ever witnessed. The assault briefly knocked offline the world’s largest anti-spam organization, and caused a great deal of collateral damage to innocent bystanders in the process. Here’s a never-before-seen look at how that attack unfolded, and a rare glimpse into the shadowy cybercrime forces that orchestrated it.

The following are excerpts taken verbatim from a series of Skype and IRC chat room logs generated by a group of “bullet-proof cybercrime hosts” — so called because they specialized in providing online hosting to a variety of clientele involved in spammy and scammy activities.

Facebook profile picture of Sven Olaf Kamphuis

Facebook profile picture of Sven Olaf Kamphuis

Gathered under the banner ‘STOPhaus,’ the group included a ragtag collection of hackers who got together on the 17th of March 2013 to launch what would quickly grow to a 300+Gigabits per second (Gbps) attack on, an anti-spam organization that they perceived as a clear and present danger to their spamming operations.

The attack –a stream of some 300 billion bits of data per second — was so large that it briefly knocked offline Cloudflare, a company that specializes in helping organizations stay online in the face of such assaults. Cloudflare dubbed it “The Attack that Almost Broke the Internet.

The campaign was allegedly organized by a Dutchman named Sven Olaf Kamphuis (pictured above). Kamphuis ran a company called CB3ROB, which in turn provided services for a Dutch company called “Cyberbunker,” so named because the organization was housed in a five-story NATO bunker and because it had advertised its services as a bulletproof hosting provider.

Kamphuis seemed to honestly believe his Cyberbunker was sovereign territory, even signing his emails “Prince of Cyberbunker Republic.” Arrested in Spain in April 2013 in connection with the attack on Spamhaus, Kamphuis was later extradited to The Netherlands to stand trial. He has publicly denied being part of the attacks and his trial is ongoing.

According to investigators, Kamphuis began coordinating the attack on Spamhaus after the anti-spam outfit added to its blacklist several of Cyberbunker’s Internet address ranges. The following logs, obtained by one of the parties to the week-long offensive, showcases the planning and executing of the DDoS attack, including digital assaults on a number of major Internet exchanges. The record also exposes the identities and roles of each of the participants in the attack.

The logs below are excerpts from a much longer conversation. The entire, unedited chat logs are available here. The logs are periodically broken up by text in italics, which includes additional context about each snippet of conversation. Also please note that the logs below may contain speech that some find offensive. Continue reading →

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, 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, 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 →

Jun 16

FBI Raids Spammer Outed by KrebsOnSecurity

Michael A. Persaud, a California man profiled in a Nov. 2014 KrebsOnSecurity story about a junk email artist currently flagged by anti-spam activists as one of the world’s Top 10 Worst Spammers, was reportedly raided by the FBI in connection with a federal spam investigation.

atballAccording to a June 9 story at ABC News, on April 27, 2016 the FBI raided the San Diego home of Persaud, who reportedly has been under federal investigation since at least 2013. The story noted that on June 6, 2016, the FBI asked for and was granted a warrant to search Persaud’s iCloud account, which investigators believe contained “evidence of illegal spamming’ and wire fraud to further [Persaud’s] spamming activities.”

Persaud doesn’t appear to have been charged with a crime in connection with this investigation. He maintains his email marketing business is legitimate and complies with 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 or does not give recipients an easy way to opt out of receiving future such emails from that sender.

The affidavit that investigators with the FBI used to get a warrant for Persaud’s iCloud account is sealed, but a copy of it was obtained by KrebsOnSecurity. It shows that during the April 2016 FBI search of his home, Persaud told agents that he currently conducts internet marketing from his residence by sending a million emails in under 15 minutes from various domains and Internet addresses.

The affidavit indicates the FBI was very interested in the email address In my 2014 piece Still Spamming After All These Years, I called attention to this address as the one tied to Persaud’s Facebook account — and to 5,000 or so domains he was advertising in spam. The story was about how the junk email Persaud acknowledged sending was being relayed through broad swaths of Internet address space that had been hijacked from hosting firms and other companies.

persaud-fbFBI Special Agent Timothy J. Wilkins wrote that investigators also subpoenaed and got access to that account, and found emails between Persaud and at least four affiliate programs that hire spammers to send junk email campaigns.

A spam affiliate program is a type of business or online retailer — such as an Internet pharmacy — that pays a third party (known as affiliates or spammers) a percentage of any sales that they generate for the program (for a much deeper dive on how affiliate programs work, check out Spam Nation). Continue reading →

Oct 15

IBM Runs World’s Worst Spam-Hosting ISP?

This author has long sought to shame Web hosting and Internet service providers who fail to take the necessary steps to keep spammers, scammers and other online ne’er-do-wells off their networks. Typically, the companies on the receiving end of this criticism are little-known Internet firms. But according to anti-spam activists, the title of the Internet’s most spam-friendly provider recently has passed to networks managed by IBM — one of the more recognizable and trusted names in technology and security.

In March 2010, not long after I began working on my new book Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime, From Global Epidemic to Your Front DoorI ran a piece titled Naming and Shaming Bad ISPs. That story drew on data from 10 different groups that track spam and malware activity by ISP. At the time, a cloud computing firm called Softlayer was listed prominently in six out of 10 of those rankings.

In June 2013, Softlayer was acquired by IBM. (Update: Oct. 31, 11:43 p.m. ET: As reader Alex and others have pointed out, another ISP listed prominently in this chart below — ThePlanet — is now also part of IBM/Softlayer).

The top spam-friendly ISPs and hosting providers in early 2010.

The top spam-friendly ISPs and hosting providers in early 2010. Softlayer and ThePlanet both listed prominently in the top 10, and both are now owned by IBM/Softlayer.

Original story:

Softlayer gradually cleaned up its act, and began responding more quickly to abuse reports filed by anti-spammers and security researchers. In July 2013, the company was acquired by IBM. More recently, however, the trouble at networks managed by Softlayer has returned. Last month, anti-spam group listed Softlayer as the “#1 spam hosting ISP,” putting Softlayer at the very top of its World’s Worst Spam Support ISPs index. Spamhaus said the number of abuse issues at the ISP has “rapidly reached rarely previously seen numbers.”

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, Softlayer for several weeks did not respond to requests for comment. After reaching out to IBM earlier this week, I received the following statement from Softlayer Communications Director Andre Fuochi:

“With the growth of Softlayer’s global footprint, as expected with any fast growing service, spammers have targeted our platform. We are aggressively working with authorities, groups like The Spamhaus Project, and IBM Security analysts to shut down this recent, isolated spike. Just in the past month we’ve shut down 95 percent of the spam accounts identified by Spamhaus, and continue to actively eliminate this activity.” Continue reading →

Aug 15

‘Like Cutting Off a Limb to Save the Body’

This author has spent many years chronicling the exploits of black hat spammers who use hacked computers to relay junk email. But I’ve dedicated comparatively little time delving into ways of email marketers who technically follow U.S. anti-spam laws yet nevertheless engage in spammy practices. The latter is able to ply their trade because there are thousands of Internet hosting companies operating on thin profit margins that are happy to host spammy but lucrative clients. This is the story of how one hosting company heroically kicked out all of its email marketing customers at great expense and ended up building a stronger, more profitable company in the process.

emailgraphicA serial entrepreneur as a young teenager, Peter Holden founded several online companies by the time he turned 20 and started Tulsa, Okla.-based hosting firm HostWinds. The company grew modestly but steadily — relying on more than two dozen servers and bringing in revenues of about $15,000 per month.

That is, until Holden got his first email marketing client who offered to double HostWind’s monthly income in one day.

“I remember driving down from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to visit this client,” said Holden, now 25. “It was July 2012, and it was super hot in the car because I didn’t have air conditioning. But I remember thinking it was really cool to have a client who was local and interested in using our services.”

That one client’s business would not only double HostWind’s income, but it gave the company much-needed funds to invest in building out the firm’s technical infrastructure. Good thing, too, because the email marketing client soon referred more e-mailers to HostWinds, which was forced to petition the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) for thousands of additional Internet addresses to accommodate its new clientele.

“Fast forward about two years, and we now have a lot of mailers on our network,” Holden said. “Throughout all of this, one client introduced me to another client, and another.”

All of them swore up and down that they were following U.S. anti-spam laws to the letter. The CAN-SPAM Act was intended to make it more expensive and difficult for email marketers and spammers to send unsolicited junk email, but critics say it is essentially toothless and rarely enforced. Under CAN-SPAM, commercial emails can’t be spoofed (i.e., the address in the “from;” field can’t be faked or obfuscated), and the messages must give recipients a simple way to opt-out of receiving future missives.

“Legally speaking, we didn’t have any client on our network who broke the law. My dad was a lawyer and we’d routinely terminate anyone who violated our policies,” Holden said. “Ultimately, I think the fact that these clients were able to pay their bills on time — and their bills were massive — gave them some sort of air of legitimacy.”


From the perspective of anti-spam groups, the main problem with the CAN-SPAM act is that it doesn’t require marketers to get opt-in approval from people before spamming them. Also, many large-scale junk email operations are not too dissimilar from spam campaigns run by cybercrooks — except instead of routing the mail through PCs that have been seeded with malware, commercial emailers send email from huge numbers of distinct Internet addresses that they rent from a vast network of hosting companies. Continue reading →

Dec 14

SpamHaus, CloudFlare Attacker Pleads Guilty

A 17-year-old male from London, England pleaded guilty this week to carrying out a massive denial-of-service attack last year against anti-spam outfit SpamHaus and content delivery network CloudFlare, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

narko-stophausIn late March 2013, a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack hit the web site of SpamHaus, an organization that distributes a blacklist of spammers to email and network providers. When SpamHaus moved its servers behind CloudFlare, which specializes in blocking such attacks — the attackers pelted CloudFlare’s network. The New York Times called the combined assault the largest known DDoS attack ever on the Internet at the time; for its part, CloudFlare dubbed it “the attack that almost broke the Internet.”

In April 2013, an unnamed then-16-year-old male from London identified only by his hacker alias “Narko,” was arrested and charged with computer misuse and money laundering in connection with the attack.

Sources close to the investigation now tell KrebsOnSecurity that Narko has pleaded guilty to those charges, and that Narko’s real name is Sean Nolan McDonough. A spokesman for the U.K. National Crime Agency confirmed that a 17-year-old male from London had pleaded guilty to those charges on Dec. 10, but noted that “court reporting restrictions are in place in respect to a juvenile offender, [and] as a consequence the NCA will not be releasing further detail.”

During the assault on SpamHaus, Narko was listed as one of several moderators of the forum Stophaus[dot]com, a motley crew of hacktivists, spammers and bulletproof hosting providers who took credit for organizing the attack on SpamHaus and CloudFlare.


It is likely that McDonough/Narko was hired by someone else to conduct the attack. So, this seems as good a time as any to look deeper into who’s likely the founder and driving force behind the Stophaus movement itself. All signs point to an angry, failed spammer living in Florida who runs an organization that calls itself the Church of Common Good.

cocg-fbNot long after McDonough’s arrest, a new Facebook page went online called “Freenarko,” which listed itself as “a solidarity support group to help in the legal defense and media stability for ‘Narko,’ a 16-yr old brother in London who faces charges concerning the Spamhaus DDoS attack in March.”

Multiple posts on that page link to Stophaus propaganda, to the Facebook page for the Church of the Common Good, and to a now-defunct Web site called “” (an eye-opening and archived copy of the site as it existed in early 2013 is available at; for better or worse, the group’s Facebook page lives on).

The Church of Common Good lists as its leader a Gulfport, Fla. man named Andrew J. Stephens, whose LinkedIn page says he is a “media mercenary” at the same organization (hours after this story was posted, large chunks of text were deleted from Stephens’ profile; a PDF of the original profile is here).

Stephens’ CV lists a stint in 2012 as owner of an email marketing firm variously called Digital Dollars and IBT Inc, moneymaking schemes which Stephens describes as a “beginner to intermediate level guide to successful list marketing in today’s email environment. It incorporates the use of both white hat and some sketchy techniques you would find on black hat forums, but has avoided anything illegal or unethical…which you would also find on black hat forums.”

More recent entries in Andrew’s LinkedIn profile show that he now sees his current job as a “social engineer.” From his page:

“I am a what you may call a “Social Engineer” and have done work for several information security teams. My most recent operation was with a research team doing propaganda analysis for a media firm. I have a unique ability to access data that is typically inaccessible through social engineering and use this ability to gather data for research purposes. I have a knack for data mining and analysis, but was not formally trained so am able to think outside the box and accomplish goals traditional infosec students could not. I am proficient at strategic planning and vulnerability analysis and am often busy dissecting malware and tracking the criminals behind such software. There’s no real title for what I do, but I do it well I am told.”

Turns out, Andrew J. Stephens used to have his own Web site — Here, the indispensable helps out again with a cache of his site from back when it launched in 2011 (oddly enough, the same year that Stophaus claims to have been born). On his page, Mr. Stephens lists himself as an “internet entrepreneur” and his business as “IBT.” Under his “Featured Work” heading, he lists “The Stophaus Project,” “Blackhat Learning Center,” and a link to an spamming software tool called “Quick Send v.1.0.”

Stephens did not return requests for comment sent to his various contact addresses, although a combative individual who uses the Twitter handle @Stophaus and has been promoting the group’s campaign refused to answer direct questions about whether he was in fact Andrew J. Stephens.

Continue reading →

May 13

Conversations with a Bulletproof Hoster

Criminal commerce on the Internet would mostly grind to a halt were it not for the protection offered by so-called “bulletproof hosting” providers — the online equivalent of offshore havens where shady dealings go ignored. Last month I had an opportunity to interview a provider of bulletproof services for one of the Web’s most notorious cybercrime forums, and who appears to have been at least partly responsible for launching what’s been called the largest cyber attack the Internet has ever seen.'s intro to Darkode’s intro post to Darkode

Earlier this year, the closely-guarded English-language crime forum was compromised and came under a series of heavy distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks aimed at keeping it offline. Around that same time, welcomed a new member — a bulletproof hosting broker aptly named “” — who promised to defend the site from future DDoS attacks. also said he could offer more robust and crime-friendly hosting services than darkode’s previous provider — Santrex, literally an offshore hosting facility located in the Seychelles, a 115-island country that spans an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.’s timing was perfect: Darkode desperately needed both, and seemed to know his stuff, so he was admitted to the forum and given stewardship of the site’s defense and hosting. recruits Stophaus members on darkode. recruits Stophaus members on darkode.


Of course, to successfully defend a network against DDoS attacks one must know a great deal about how to launch such assaults. Indeed, was an integral member of Stophaus, an upstart group of bulletproof hosters that banded together in March to launch a massive Internet attack against anti-spam group

Hundreds of ISPs route or deny traffic based in part on Spamhaus’s blacklists of known, cybercrime-friendly ISPs, and Stophaus formed in response to Spamhaus’s listing of bulletproof hosting provider in particular: A network known alternatively as CB3ROB, a.k.a. “Cyberbunker” because it operated from a heavily fortified NATO bunker in The Netherlands. is moderator of the Stophaus forum, and not long after joining, he was recruiting fellow darkode members for the Stophaus cause. Stophaus’s records show that another core member was “0ptik,” a competing bulletproof hosting provider. Spamhaus had listed dozens of Optik’s domains, as well as virtually all of the IP address ranges had rented at abuse-friendly Romanian hosting provider Voxility. It was payback time.

In late March, Spamhaus became the target of what experts called one of the largest computer attacks on the Internet. The method of attack — a DNS amplification attack — was similar to that first seen used in attacks more than a decade ago that targeted the heart of the Internet’s routing system, except that it was by most accounts much larger. calls Spamhaus assault "our prank." calls Spamhaus assault “our prank.”

“DNS amplification attacks can bring up to 140 Gbps to a single resource from a single controller,” wrote in a posting less than 24 hours after the attack on Spamhaus began. “The beauty of it [is] that the ‘bots’ are just open DNS resolvers in the world.” Linking to a writeup from about the attack, stated that “Some BP hosters were lately united, check out our latest prank.”

Last month, authorities in Spain arrested Sven Kamphuis, a 35-year-old Dutch man, thought to be responsible for coordinating the unprecedented attack on Spamhaus. According to Spamhaus, Kamphuis made claims about being his own independent country in the Republic of Cyberbunker. But according to, Kamphuis was just the public face of the movement. “Sven didn’t attack anyone,” wrote in an online chat with KrebsOnSecurity.

If Kamphuis was just a mouthpiece, who was responsible for the attack? What is interesting about the Stophaus movement is that very well may have prompted Spamhaus to finally place CB3ROB/Cyberbunker at the top of its World’s Worst Spam-Support ISPs list, a move that helped to precipitate this conflict.

According to Spamhaus, while Cyberbunker and Spamhaus certainly have a bit of a history together, Cyberbunker wasn’t really a focus of Spamhaus’s blocking efforts until the fall of 2012. That’s when Spamhaus began noticing a large number of malware and botnet control servers being stood up inside of Cyberbunker’s Internet address ranges.

“We didn’t really notice these guys at CB3ROB much until last fall, when they started hosting botnet controllers, malware droppers and a lot of pharma spam stuff,” said a Spamhaus member who would only give his name as “Barry.” “Before that, it was mainly routing for some Chinese guys — Vincent Chan — fake Chinese products.” sells BP hosting out of Cyberbunker selling BP hosting out of Cyberbunker

Oddly enough, this coincides with’s entrance on the bulletproof hosting scene (at least as advertised on crime forums). In his introduction post to Darkode,  referenced his bulletproof hosting sales threads at two Russian-language forums — and In these threads, which began in Sept. 2012, advertised the ability to host ZeuS and SpyEye botnet command and control networks for between $99 and $199 per month, and bulletproof domain registration from $30 per month. More importantly, proudly announced that he was offering a premiere BP hosting service for $400 a month that was housed in an old NATO bunker in Holland and that used IP addresses assigned to CB3ROB (see screenshot to left).

Continue reading →

Apr 13

Dutchman Arrested in Spamhaus DDoS

A 35-year-old Dutchman thought to be responsible for launching what’s been called “the largest publicly announced online attack in the history of the Internet” was arrested in Barcelona on Thursday by Spanish authorities. The man, identified by Dutch prosecutors only as “SK,” was being held after a European warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with a series of massive online attacks last month against Spamhaus, an anti-spam organization.

Facebook profile picture of Sven Olaf Kamphuis

Facebook profile picture of Sven Olaf Kamphuis

According to a press release issued by the Public Prosecutor Service in The Netherlands, the National Prosecutor in Barcelona ordered SK’s arrest and the seizure of computers and mobile phones from the accused’s residence there. The arrest is being billed as a collaboration of a unit called Eurojust, the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit.

The dispute began late last year, when Spamhaus added to its blacklist several Internet address ranges in the Netherlands. Those addresses belong to a Dutch company called “Cyberbunker,” so named because the organization is housed in a five-story NATO bunker, and has advertised its services as a bulletproof hosting provider.

“A year ago, we started seeing pharma and botnet controllers at Cyberbunker’s address ranges, so we started to list them,” said a Spamhaus member who asked to remain anonymous. “”We got a rude reply back, and he made claims about being his own independent country in the Republic of Cyberbunker, and said he was not bound by any laws and whatnot. He also would sign his emails ‘Prince of Cyberbunker Republic.” On Facebook, he even claimed that he had diplomatic immunity.”

Cyberbunker's IP ranges. Its  WHOIS records put the organization in Antarctica.

Cyberbunker’s IP ranges. Its WHOIS records put the organization in Antarctica.

Spamhaus took its complaint to the upstream Internet providers that connected Cyberbunker to the larger Internet. According to Spamhaus, those providers one by one severed their connections with Cyberbunker’s Internet addresses. Just hours after the last ISP dropped Cyberbunker, Spamhaus found itself the target of an enormous amount of attack traffic designed to knock its operations offline.

It is not clear who SK is, but according to multiple sources, the man identified as SK is likely one Sven Olaf Kamphuis. The attack on Spamhaus was the subject of a New York Times article on Mar. 26, 2013, which quoted Mr. Kamphuis as a representative of Cyberbunker and saying, “We are aware that this is one of the largest DDoS attacks the world had publicly seen.” Kamphuis also reportedly told The Times that Cyberbunker was retaliating against Spamhaus for “abusing their influence.”

Also, a Facebook profile by that same name identifies its account holder as living in Barcelona and a native of Amsterdam, as well as affiliated with “Republic Cyberbunker.”

Mr. Kamphuis could not be immediately reached for comment.

Jan 13

Inside the Gozi Bulletproof Hosting Facility

Nate Anderson at Ars Technica has a good story about how investigators tracked down “Virus,” the nickname allegedly used by a Romanian man accused by the U.S. Justice Department of running the Web hosting operations for a group that created and marketed the Gozi banking Trojan. Turns out, I’ve been sitting on some fascinating details about this hosting provider for many months without fully realizing what I had.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors unveiled criminal charges against three men who allegedly created and distributed Gozi. Among them was Mihai Ionut Paunescu, a 28-year-old Romanian national accused of providing the gang “bulletproof hosting” services. Bulletproof hosting is an Underweb term for a hosting provider that will host virtually any content, from phishing and carding sites to botnet command centers and browser exploit kits. After I read the Ars story, I took a closer look at the Paunescu complaint (PDF), and several details immediately caught my eye.

For one thing, the feds say Paunescu was an administrator of ( In December 2011, a source shared with KrebsOnSecurity several massive database dumps from that server, which had apparently been hacked. Included in that archive was a screenshot of the administration panel for the server. It visually depicts many of the details described in the government’s indictment and complaint against Paunescu, such as how the BP provider was home to more than 130 servers, and that it charged exorbitant prices — sometimes more than 1,000 euros per month for a single server.


The above screenshot (which is a snippet taken from this full-screen version) shows that this server was used for projects that were “50%SBL,” meaning that about half of the properties on it were listed on the Spamhaus Block List (SBL), which flags Web sites that participate in malicious activity online, particularly sending or benefiting from spam and hosting malware. Some of the names chosen for the servers are fairly telling, such as “darkdeeds1,” “darkdeeds2,” “phreak-bots” and “phis1.” The data dump from included multiple “drop” sites, where ZeuS and SpyEye botnets would deposit passwords, bank account information and other data stolen from tens of thousands of victim PCs.

Continue reading →

Dec 12

A Closer Look at Two Bigtime Botmasters

Over the past 18 months, I’ve published a series of posts that provide clues about the possible real-life identities of the men responsible for building some of the largest and most disruptive spam botnets on the planet. I’ve since done a bit more digging into the backgrounds of the individuals thought to be responsible for the Rustock and Waledac spam botnets, which has produced some additional fascinating and corroborating details about these two characters.

In March 2011, KrebsOnSecurity featured never-before-published details about the financial accounts and nicknames used by the Rustock botmaster. That story was based on information leaked from SpamIt, a cybercrime business that paid spammers to promote rogue Internet pharmacies (think Viagra spam). In a follow-up post, I wrote that the Rustock botmaster’s personal email account was tied to a domain name, which at one time featured a résumé of a young man named Dmitri A. Sergeev.

Then, on Jan. 26. 2012, I ran a story featuring a trail of evidence suggesting a possible identity of “Severa (a.k.a. “Peter Severa”), another SpamIt affiliate who is widely considered the author of the Waledac botnet (and likely the Storm Worm). In that story, I included several screen shots of Severa chatting on, an extremely secretive Russian forum dedicated to those involved in the spam business. In one of the screen shots, Severa laments the arrest of Alan Ralsky, a convicted American spam kingpin who specialized in stock spam and who — according to the U.S. Justice Department – was partnered with Severa. Anti-spam activists at maintain that Peter Severa’s real name is Peter Levashov (although the evidence I gathered also turned up another name, Viktor Sergeevich Ivashov).

It looks now like Spamhaus’s conclusion on Severa was closer to the truth. More on that in a second. I was able to feature the Spamdot discussions because I’d obtained a backup copy of the forum. But somehow in all of my earlier investigations I overlooked a handful of private messages between Severa and the Rustock botmaster, who used the nickname “Tarelka” on Spamdot. Apparently, the two worked together on the same kind of pump-and-dump stock spam schemes, but also knew each other intimately enough to be on a first-name basis. chat between Tarelka and Severa

The following is from a series of private Spamdot message exchanged between Tarelka and Severa on May 25 and May 26, 2010. In it, Severa refers to Tarelka as “Dimas,” a familiar form of “Dmitri.” Likewise, Tarelka addresses Severa as “Petka,” a common Russian diminutive of “Peter.” They discuss a mysterious mutual friend named John, who apparently used the nickname “Apple.”

Continue reading →