Security Experts:

Spammers Leak 1.4 Billion User Records

A company run by a couple of known spammers has unknowingly leaked a series of files containing sensitive information about its operations, including nearly 1.4 billion user records.

River City Media (RCM), which claims to be a legitimate marketing firm, is run by Matt Ferris and Alvin Slocombe, both listed in Spamhaus’ Register of Known Spam Operations (ROKSO).

Slocombe is said to be involved with the bulletproof spam host Cyber World Internet Services, which is believed to have launched spam campaigns using aliases such as Ad Media Plus, RCM Delivery, eBox, Brand 4 Marketing and Site Traffic Network.

MacKeeper researcher Chris Vickery, who has made a name for himself after finding misconfigured databases exposing large amounts of potentially sensitive data, discovered a freely accessible Rsync backup belonging to River City Media.

The leaked data has been analyzed by Vickery, Spamhaus, and IDG’s CSO Online. Law enforcement has also been alerted as some of the exposed files appear to contain evidence of illegal activities. Tech giants such as Microsoft and Apple have also been notified.

According to Vickery, the leaked data includes documents (e.g. financial data), backups and chat logs. One of the most interesting files is a database containing 1.37 billion user records, including names, email addresses, physical addresses and IPs.

The expert, whose investigation showed that much of the data appears to be valid, believes the vast amount of information was collected by the spammers through credit checks, sweepstakes, education opportunities and other similar activities.

“Well-informed individuals did not choose to sign up for bulk advertisements over a billion times. The most likely scenario is a combination of techniques,” Vickery said in a blog post. “One is called co-registration. That’s when you click on the ‘Submit’ or ‘I agree’ box next to all the small text on a website. Without knowing it, you have potentially agreed your personal details can be shared with affiliates of the site.”

The exposed data, which Vickery believes will lead to the downfall of this “spam empire,” also includes information on the illegal tools and techniques used by RCM. For example, one of the leaked files describes a technique leveraged by the spammers to target Gmail servers by opening as many connections as possible between them and the targeted server.

“This is done by purposefully configuring your own machine to send response packets extremely slowly, and in a fragmented manner, while constantly requesting more connections,” the researcher explained. “Then, when the Gmail server is almost ready to give up and drop all connections, the spammer suddenly sends as many emails as possible through the pile of connection tunnels. The receiving side is then overwhelmed with data and will quickly block the sender, but not before processing a large load of emails.”

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Eduard Kovacs is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.