Friday, January 25, 2013

Honey, please stop spamming me!

Recently, I have received many emails that look like they're from my wife and other family members, and have innocuous subjects like "great" or "hi".  However, once opened, they usually contain a single http link to some suspicious-looking site.

My first reaction was, "oh no, my wife's computer is infected!"  But, upon closer examination, the messages all say:
From: MyWife Hansen <>
The From: name matches, but the email address does not.  This is basically normal spam, but with a twist: someone has found out who I know in order to craft messages which I am very likely to open.   How are they making the connection?  There were two clues.

  1. I only received these "from" people that have my same last name.  My dad, brother, and wife, but not my sister who goes by her married name.  
  2. Of the messages from my wife, some included her maiden and married names, which is highly unusual.  She only goes by one or the other... except on Facebook.

Facebook has a "feature" where you can search for friends by email address.  I believe the spammers are creating fake Facebook and Yahoo accounts.  Once they are ready to spam me, they look up my email on Facebook and look at my friends list.  They pick a friend with the same last name, and set that as the "From" name.  From Facebook, they do not know what "MyWife Hansen"'s email address is, so they use one of the fraudulent addresses.  Some lessons:

  1. Yahoo is the source of the spam, probably by letting fake accounts get created.   This has been going on for months at least.
  2. Yahoo might check that the account and email address in "From:" match, but does not check the name, or use it to help indicate spam when messages are sent.
  3. Once again, sharing information on Facebook is dangerous and has unintended consequences.  In this case, the only information the spammers needed was your email and your friends list.
Takeaway: Lock down your Facebook account so that your friends list is not available, especially to non-friends.  You can also remove the ability for people to find you by email address.

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