When I look at the masses of spam we receive on a dailybasis, I often wonder who is behind it all. What systems do they have in place,and who are the people behind such madness? We have often discussed some of the big spamming botnets, like Cutwail,or Grumon this very blog. But at the same timeas the big boys carry out their business, there is also a lot of smaller scalespamming and scamming going on.
Today I was examining a phishing message, and I realized itmay offer a clue as to how it was sent and by who.
Pretty standard phish. The link led to a fake CommonWealthBank phishing page illegitimately hosted on some little hotel's web site.
Looking closer at the message header revealed someinteresting information, namely an X-PHP-Script: header field. This is a feature from PHP 5.3onwards that allows administrators to track mail (i.e. spam) sent fromscripts on a web server. In this case, this little line told me the host andthe path to the script which generated the message, i.e. /tmp/a7a.php.
So naturally I went to a browser and loaded that URL. Itturns out to be a simple spam mailing application, again hosted illegitimately,where you can create your spam message, dump an address list, and away you go.Free spamming from a (presumably) honorable IP address.
Pretty simple stuff, but also low tech, low volume as well.Even still, suitable for a low tech phisher, with a small targeted addresslist. This PHP app also had a curious little moniker at the bottom:
"DOla Habibi SpaM Was Here"
I figured that there had to be other web sites hosting this spammingscript as well. A bit of Googling uncovered five other sites hosting the samescript. Not only that, the source codewas readily available on Pastebin. Easy peasy, all you need is a poorlyprotected website running PHP.
The other piece of information in the X-PHP-Script field wasan IP address, 188.8.131.52. This indicates the IP address of the person whoused the script to upload the spam. I wonder where that IP address is located?Yup, you guessed it:
A bit more Googling uncovered several complaints of Nigerianscammers with links to that IP address, including a very recent "RomanceScammer" within the last few days. Is this the face of our spammer? "Mr Mobolaji Adegboye" whom, if you are feelingromantic, you can reach at email@example.com. Maybe you can ask him if his mother knows hescams people for a living?
Perhaps. But on amore serious note, this little analysis highlights a few problems, mostly to dowith insecure web servers. More and more email scams like this rely onotherwise legitimate web servers to do their work, and especially to piggy backon that server's IP reputation. Administrators, keep an eye on those webservers and have a system in place to regularly check for oddities. Also consider blocking outbound SMTP from anyweb servers that have no need to send email.