Many thanks to all; I have received a warm response to Spam-tracking 101 & 102. I was intending to do 103 in a few days, but what the heck, you all have warmed the cockles of my heart! (What exactly is a cockle, anyway?) So here it is - Spam-tracking 103, the WHOIS tool.
By the way, there are a lot of folks out there who know MUCH more about spam-tracking than I do. Please feel free to put out your own curriculum. The important thing is that we educate this flood of newbies and lurkers who hate spam as much as we veterans do. We want everyone to get into the the spam-fighting biz, don't we?
Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I'll begin.
Since the Internet was essentially started by stringing together a bunch of computers that spoke the Operating System known as Unix, most of the administrative and client tools that act over the internet were originally Unix tools, as well. Even UseNet was at one time only readable by Unix machines and those who had mastered its arcane command set. There are still a bunch of us old grizzled veterans around, and you will see us speaking to each other in bizarre terms and buzzwords, and you might wonder what the heck we're talking about.
Fortunately, most, if not all, of the tools that are used on the Internet have been reproduced in a more user-friendly, graphical, way in the Windows, Windows 95, and MacIntosh arenas. This, then, is an introduction to the major tools that systems administrators (sysadmins) use to track down Internet problems. Also fortunately, most of them are readily adaptable to search out the roots of spam.
Shameless Plug (I have nothing to do with this company, but I like their software):
My personal favorite is NetScan Tools for Windows 95. It has a very nice user interface, and it contains all kinds of tools other than just whois - we will cover those in future lessons, since WHOIS is a big topic. You can get a shareware copy of it at: http://www.nwpsw.com/. It is a free 30-day evaluation copy of the tool. It is expected that you will register and pay for it if you use beyond 30 days. It costs $US25, and I believe it is money well spent. End of plug.
You can obtain these tools from a variety of sources. I recommend taking a look at http://www.tucows.com/ but there are many other sources, such as http://www.download.com/ and http://cws.internet.com/.
Besides Unix, I am most familiar with Windows/Win95, so these are the tools I will refer to. If anyone knows of their Mac analogue, perhaps they would post those tools as a followup to this message.
In this lesson, we begin with WHOIS:
The WHOIS database is a compendium of domain names. You may already know that the Internet itself does not speak "human" or "english." It speaks in IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. Those addresses have to be linked to the human domain names in a database in order to be useful. If I were typing from a Unix prompt, I would type the commands like this:
The point here is that WHOIS can be used in a variety of ways to query the infomation contained therein. Sometimes, you may get a bewildering response from Internic, but there is usually something further that you can query to track a source of spam. If you don't know how to begin, try just typing in whois "anything" and see what you get. You won't break it or make anyone mad at you.
If you query a domain name, say "spamlovers.com" and get a "No Response Found" reply from Internic, that means that it is NOT a legitimate domain name, because Internic has authority over all domain names that end in .com. Same for .net, .org, and .edu. Notice, please that you must enter "spamlovers.com" and not "www.spamlovers.com" or "spammachine.spamlovers.com" to get a positive response. It is just the last bit of the domain name in front of the dot that we are interested it. The bit in front of "spamlovers.com" denotes a machine belonging to that organization, but it is named locally, not by Internic.
Now, on to the domain name. If you are querying a US domain name, and it is legitimate, you should get back a response, and it may look something like this:
whois comp-sol.com [rs.internic.net] Computer Solutions of Kenosha (COMP-SOL-DOM) 2031 22nd Avenue Kenosha, WI 53140 US Domain Name: COMP-SOL.COM Administrative Contact, Technical Contact, Zone Contact: Mattocks, Bill (BM561) bmattocks@COMP-SOL.COM (414)551-8088 Billing Contact: Mattocks, Bill (BM561) bmattocks@COMP-SOL.COM (414)551-8088 Record last updated on 06-Sep-97. Record created on 09-Aug-95. Database last updated on 12-Sep-97 04:47:08 EDT. Domain servers in listed order: DARKSTAR.NOMAD.NET 220.127.116.11 NOMAD.NET 18.104.22.168 The InterNIC Registration Services Host contains ONLY Internet Information (Networks, ASN's, Domains, and POC's). Please use the whois server at nic.ddn.mil for MILNET Information.
Let's deconstruct the information and see what it means:
Computer Solutions of Kenosha (COMP-SOL-DOM) 2031 22nd Avenue Kenosha, WI 53140 US
OK, so this is a supposedly a business, called Computer Solutions of Kenosha, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The "(COMP-SOL-DOM)" bit indicates that comp-sol.com is indeed the domain name. Please bear in mind that spammers are becoming educated about domain names and whois. They often put bogus information in when they register with Internic to get their domain name. That's against the rules, but Internic won't do anything about it at this time. We live with what is. Still, many times this information will be correct. If nothing else, Internic has to have a way to bill the domain. If the information given is totally bogus, the spammer probably intends not to pay the bill, but merely to use the domain name until it expires, and then register a new one. Let's move on:
Administrative Contact, Technical Contact, Zone Contact: Mattocks, Bill (BM561) bmattocks@COMP-SOL.COM (414)551-8088 Billing Contact: Mattocks, Bill (BM561) bmattocks@COMP-SOL.COM (414)551-8088
This bit tells us who is responsible for the domain, who pays the bills, who keeps it running, etc. Again, it is supposed to contain legitimate information, and again, it often does not. Just the same, if the information is accurate, we now have an e-mail address to complain to. Hmm, happens to be me, doesn't it. Well. Please don't take me too literally. We also have a telephone number to call if we wish to register a complaint that way.
Record last updated on 06-Sep-97. Record created on 09-Aug-95. Database last updated on 12-Sep-97 04:47:08 EDT.
This bit is not too exciting. It is as it appears, showing us when the domain was created, and when it was last changed.
NOTE: Remember our last lesson about DejaNews? If the "Record last updated" date is fairly recent, this would be a good time to search for the offending domain name using Dejanews (http://www.dejanews.com/) to see if any other anti-spammer has posted similar WHOIS information. As a spammer hops from ISP to ISP, they take their domain names with them, and that will show up. Just a tiny bit of information, but it may help to prove to your satisfaction that a spammer is indeed a spammer, and that a particular domain is or is not a spamhaus. It's the little things...
Domain servers in listed order: DARKSTAR.NOMAD.NET 22.214.171.124 NOMAD.NET 126.96.36.199
Finally, we have the bit about the Domain servers. A domain server is simply the machine that does lookups for a particular domain name when someone sends anything to that domain, like when you go to a web page or when you send mail to a particular domain. In this case, if anyone goes to a web page at www.comp-sol.com, their request will be "looked up" by one or both of the machines above. This is important, because a spammer may receive his upstream account (or feed) from one source, and have another source do his DNS or Domain Name Service. It could be another source to complain to. Many times, when you are dealing with a spammer, you will see this:
Domain servers in listed order: NS7.CYBERPROMO.COM 188.8.131.52 NS5.CYBERPROMO.COM 184.108.40.206 NS8.CYBERPROMO.COM 220.127.116.11 NS9.CYBERPROMO.COM 18.104.22.168
And you know you are dealing with the deathstar itself. To many of us here on NANAE, seeing this is final and irrevocable proof that the domain in question is a spamhaus, and the sender of the e-mail is a spammer. We tend not to believe that there are any legitimate domains hosted by Cyberpromo.
When you see this, it is like swimming in the ocean and seeing a dorsal fin rise up out of the water and start towards you.
As we mentioned above, whois can be used in other ways, not simply to look up a domain name. For example, we can use it to find out who a particular IP address belongs to:
whois 22.214.171.124 [rs.internic.net] [No name] (NOMAD4-HST) Hostname: NOMAD.NET Address: 126.96.36.199 System: IBM PC 486/66 running DOS/IPAD Record last updated on 03-Aug-95. Database last updated on 12-Sep-97 04:47:08 EDT.
This in itself doesn't give us much information (In fact, this information is out of date, and needs to be updated.) Ah well, another task, another day. What's more important than spam-fighting?
So, we can look for the owner of the license in question by stripping off the last digit of the IP address and replacing it with a zero. In this case we would do:
whois 188.8.131.52 [rs.internic.net] No match for "184.108.40.206".
OK, so we didn't get a match. Still, someone owns the IP range in question. So, now we take off the last two IP "octets" and replace both of them with zeros. Thus:
whois 220.127.116.11 [rs.internic.net] alpha dot net, corp. (NET-ALPHA) 324 East Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 609 Milwaukee WI, 53202 Netname: ALPHA Netnumber: 18.104.22.168 Coordinator: Chase, Tim (TC15) support@ALPHA.NET 414-274-7040 Domain System inverse mapping provided by: HOMER.ALPHA.NET 22.214.171.124 HELEN.ALPHA.NET 126.96.36.199 Record last updated on 10-Jan-96. Database last updated on 12-Sep-97 04:47:08 EDT.
Here is some useful information! We see that the actual IP range (often called a "Class C license") is owned by someone else entirely. In this case, it is owned by alpha dot net corp, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We have a contact name and e-mail address, and we have a telephone number. Remember, this will be an upstream provider for the spammer in question, and possibly not spammers themselves. We phrase our complaint accordingly, so as to not offend the good guys.
If that failed to get a result, we could simply keep replacing octets with zeros until we got the owner of an entire block of licenses, and again, we would have someone else to complain to.
The further away we get from the spammer, the less likely it is that we are dealing with spammer-friendly folks. If they get enough complaints, they MAY decide to take action, and we have all heard the phrase, "Shit rolls downhill." Eventually, someone has to take the heat and perhaps terminate the spammer. Keep this in mind.
Sometimes, when we use whois, we get many responses, not just one. Here is an example:
whois mattocks [rs.internic.net] Mattocks E-mail Service (MATTOCKS-DOM) MATTOCKS.COM Mattocks, Bill (BM561) bmattocks@COMP-SOL.COM (414)551-8088 Mattocks, Bill (BM1199) bmattocks@COMP-SOL.COM (414)551-8088 Mattocks, Christopher (CM3732) kolis@LVWEBMASTERS.COM 6024884305 Mattocks, Darryl (DM812) darryl.mattocks@BOOKSHOP.CO.UK Mattocks, Jeff (MJ100-ORG) JeffMattocks@MSN.COM (360) 896-8150 To single out one record, look it up with "!xxx", where xxx is the handle, shown in parenthesis following the name, which comes first.
And sure enough, there are instructions right there as to how to narrow down your search. Simply type in an "!" followed by the information shown in the parenthesis. In my case, it would be:
and that would bring up my information.
What about domains located outside the US? Well, our information is a bit spotty there. There are equivalents of Internic outside of the US, and they work the same way. Some of them can be searched using the WHOIS tool, but just telling it to point itself at a different database. Other times, a search of the web using something like www.yahoo.com will bring you to a web page that will let you do a foreign whois search directly from that web page.
NOTE: In fact, that would be a great idea for an anti-spam web page, if someone is not already doing it - a link to all the foreign whois databases that we can find...hint, hint.
(Here is a sampling. If I find more whois servers, I'll make a separate page for them - MJ)
I apologize for my lack of knowledge in this area. If anyone has the information on various countries that have a WHOIS database to point whois at, I'd be very appreciative if they would post it here. Since we are beginning to see more spam originating from countries outside of the US, it would be most helpful to use WHOIS to track that spam as well.
That concludes the lesson for today. Please feel free to throw roses or brickbats, as you see fit. Permission is hereby granted for anyone who wishes to publish this information in any form, as long as it remains intact and attribution to the author is given. I maintain copyright and transfer all other rights to the public.
Bill Mattocks, CIIU