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Comments March 31, 2008

Where Do Spammers Come From?

Filed under: phpBB — Dave Rathbun @ 10:54 am CommentsComments (3) 

I released a post yesterday that showed some statistics about “when” my registration spammers make their attempts. I didn’t talk much about where they come from. When I started looking at that, I found something quite interesting.

I ran a query to check the IP address for failed registration attempts on my largest board. Here is the result for the top 25 IP addresses:

| log_ip   | count(*) |
| 3a41ef6a |       94 |
| 3a41efcd |       94 |
| 57766a04 |       84 |
| NULL     |       81 |
| 57766617 |       77 |
| 3a41efd2 |       74 |
| 3a41efcb |       74 |
| 3a41efd5 |       68 |
| 57635c26 |       67 |
| 3a41efc8 |       66 |
| 3a41efc6 |       64 |
| 3d992223 |       64 |
| 3a41efc9 |       64 |
| 3a41efdc |       64 |
| 3a41efd4 |       62 |
| 3a41efc7 |       62 |
| 3a41efd1 |       62 |
| 3a41efca |       60 |
| 3a41efd9 |       60 |
| 3a41efc4 |       60 |
| 5042fa09 |       60 |
| 3a41efcc |       58 |
| 3a41efd0 |       58 |
| 3a41ef32 |       58 |
| 3a41efd8 |       58 |

Notice anything? Go ahead and take a closer look. Yes, these IP addresses are encoded using the phpBB2 encode_ip() function, but that’s not what I am talking about. Did you notice how many of them have “3a41ef” as the first six letters?

Dropping An Octet

I noticed that right away, and reran the query to drop the last two characters of the IP address and recount. (By the way, this is why I store and work with encoded IP addresses, it makes string operations much easier…) This time I will limit the result set to the top 5:

| log_ip | count(*) |
| 3a41ef |     1944 |
| 57766a |       94 |
| 577666 |       90 |
| NULL   |       81 |
| d13e0d |       70 |

All I can say is :shock:

Nearly two thousand blocked registration attempts from one IP address range. If ever there was an argument for a server-wide IP ban, this might be it.

What About Other Boards?

When I see something like this, I tend to move on to other boards and see if they exhibit the same behavior. Here are the top five IP addresses (first six characters) for another board:

| log_ip | count(*) |
| c30272 |      115 |
| 57766a |      104 |
| 577666 |       98 |
| 5042fa |       70 |
| 577674 |       59 |

Two of the top five match between the two boards. And here are the values from a third board:

| log_ip | count(*) |
| 5042fa |      127 |
| 57766a |       70 |
| cbdf99 |       58 |
| 577676 |       45 |
| 3d9922 |       40 |

Hmm. There is 57766a again. So that’s three boards where that IP address was used.

Who Are These People?

At this point I have decided to do further investigation on 57766a and 3a41ef, so I need to decode their IP address information. Decoding 57766a gives me 87.118.106 and decoding 3a41ef gives me 58.65.239. Since the second address has by far the highest number of attempts, I will start there.

I first went to the ARIN “whois” database and entered the IP address. I can’t say I was surprised to find out that the IP address is registered to the Asia-Pacific region. As I mentioned in a prior post, I am seeing an upswing in spammer registrations using .cn (China) domain names.

The search results from ARIN pointed me to APNIC and so off I went. I entered the same IP address search there and got this:

inetnum: -
netname:      HOSTFRESH
descr:        HostFresh
descr:        Internet Service Provider
country:      HK

So now I know that this IP address range belongs to a Hong Kong ISP named HostFresh. Hm. Have I seen that before? I wasn’t sure, so I did a search and found all sorts of complaints posted about them. I guess I am not unique. :) They have an abuse email address, but I am willing to bet that complaints sent in that direction go nowhere, so I didn’t bother.

What about the other IP address? Again, I started with ARIN, and again it pointed me somewhere else. This time, however, I was sent to the European database rather than Asia-Pacific. From there, I found that the owner of this range of IP addresses is from Germany:

inetnum: -
netname:         DE-KEYWEB-III
descr:           Keyweb AG IP Network
country:         DE

Given that this range of IP addresses shows up in three different logs, I am assuming that once again I am not unique in being targetted by this group. After searching the web I found that not only is this IP range known for spamming, they are also the source of a large number of web-scraping attacks as well. If you’re not familiar with web-scraping attacks what they do is visit your site and capture all of your content. In some cases, they will then launch a similar site with all of your content. This dilutes the value of your content and can even impact your weighting in search engine results. So that’s a bad thing. :)

I have recently taken steps to block known screen-scaper bots from my boards, but that’s probably another post.

Any Legitimate Users?

Before I take strong action against these IP ranges, I felt like I should look and see if there are any legitimate users from the same locations. So back to my big board I go to examine the posting history from these two IP ranges. First I checked 3a41ef and here is the result:

mysql> select poster_ip
, count(*)
where poster_ip like '3a41ef%'
group by 1;
Empty set (0.73 sec)

Next up,

select poster_ip
, count(*)
where poster_ip like '57766%'
group by 1;

Empty set (0.69 sec)

I dropped a letter off of that last IP check on purpose to broaden the range somewhat. I am getting ready to do a server-wide ban on both of these IP ranges.

Related Links

  • ARIN (North America) IP Whois Lookup
  • APNIC – Asia Pacific Network Information Center
  • RIPE NCC Search Page

Note that if you start with ARIN they will point you to the proper search database for your next query. I have provided the specific links in this case just for convenience.


  1. Spamming costs money. Depending on how it’s done, it may cost more or less, but it still is NOT free. Somewhere, some one had to pay for those IP addresses.

    Comment by Dog Cow — March 31, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

  2. I understand that. But still they must be making money from all of this somehow or they wouldn’t be doing it, right?

    Comment by Dave Rathbun — April 1, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  3. Most of the really awful spam originates from either Asua Pacific or RIPE network. Microsoft has the capabilities to put software into their computers to block these worthless spam havens if they really wanted to. Fact is they don’t give a shit.

    Comment by Sharon Smuthe — April 17, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

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