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16 January, 2009

Email Tracking


One of most the frequently asked question is how to track an email back to the sender.That is how to determine the sender of the email? The most obvious answer is by looking at the “From:” line! But this way of tracking does not work all the time since most of the spammers forge the email address or most of the spam that we get has a forged email address.This is also known as a spoofed email.Is it possible to send email from other’s address?Yes it is possible to send email from anyone’s name.Why not, you can send an email even from Bill Gate’s Email ID.If you need a proof look refer the post Send Spam Email To Friends


 


For more information on how to send a spoofed email refer the following post (link).


How To Send Fake Emails



OK now let’s come back to the topic of email tracking.So how do you determine where a message actually came from?Inorder to track an email we have to understand how email messages are put together in order to backtrack an email message. SMTP is a text based protocol for transferring messages across the internet. A series of headers are placed in front of the data portion of the message. By examining the headers you can usually backtrack an email to the source network, sometimes the source host.


If you are using Outlook or Outlook Express you can view the headers by right clicking on the message and selecting properties or options.


Below are listed the headers of an actual spam message.I have double spaced the headers to make them more readable.


Return-Path: <s359dyxtt@yahoo.com>

X-Original-To: sriki@example.com

Delivered-To: sriki@example.com

Received: from 12-218-172-108.client.mchsi.com (12-218-172-108.client.mchsi.com [12.218.172.108])by mailhost.example.com (Postfix) with SMTP id 1F9B8511C7for <sriki@example.com>; Sun, 16 Nov 2003 09:50:37 -0800 (PST)

Received: from (HELO 0udjou) [193.12.169.0] by 12-218-172-108.client.mchsi.com with ESMTP id <536806-74276>; Sun, 16 Nov 2003 19:42:31 +0200

Message-ID: <n5-l067n7z$46-z$-n@eo2.32574>

From: “Maricela Paulson” <s359dyxtt@yahoo.com>

Reply-To: “Maricela Paulson” <s359dyxtt@yahoo.com>

To: sriki@example.com

Subject: You Have won $10000 in US Lottery Scheme

Date: Sun, 16 Nov 2003 19:42:31 +0200

X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2650.21)

X-Priority: 3

MIME-Version: 1.0

Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary=”MIMEStream=_0+211404_90873633350646_4032088448″

According to the From header this message is from Maricela Paulson at s359dyxxt@yahoo.com. I could just fire off a message to abuse@yahoo.com, but that would be waste of time.


This message didn’t come from yahoo’s email service.

The header most likely to be useful in tracking the actual source of an email message is the Received header. According to the top-most Received header this message was received from the host 12-218-172-108.client.mchsi.com with the ip address of 21.218.172.108 by my server mailhost.example.com. An important item to consider in tracking is at what point in the chain does the email system become untrusted? I consider anything beyond my own email server to be an unreliable source of information. Because this header was generated by my email server it is reasonable for me to accept it at face value.


The next Received header (which is chronologically the first) shows the remote email server accepting the message from the host 0udjou with the ip 193.12.169.0. Those of you who know anything about IP will realize that that is not a valid host IP address. In addition, any hostname that ends in client.mchsi.com is unlikely to be an authorized email server. This has every sign of being a cracked client system.

Here’s is where we start digging. By default Windows is somewhat lacking in network diagnostic tools; however, you can use the tools at to do your own checking.

sriki@nqh9k:[/home/sriki] $whois 12.218.172.108 AT&T WorldNet Services ATT (NET-12-0-0-0-1)12.0.0.0 - 12.255.255.255Mediacom Communications Corp MEDIACOMCC-12-218-168-0-FLANDREAU-MN (NET-12-218-168-0-1)12.218.168.0 - 12.218.175.255

# ARIN WHOIS database, last updated 2003-12-31 19:15# Enter ? for additional hints on searching ARIN’s WHOIS database.

I can also verify the hostname of the remote server by using nslookup, although in this particular instance, my email server has already provided both the IP address and the hostname.

sriki@nqh9k:[/home/sriki] $nslookup 12.218.172.108

Server: localhostAddress: 127.0.0.1

Name: 12-218-172-108.client.mchsi.comAddress: 12.218.172.108

Ok, whois shows that Mediacom Communications owns that netblock and nslookup confirms the address to hostname mapping of the remote server,12-218-172-108.client.mchsi.com. If I preface a www in front of the domain name portion and plug that into my web browser, http://www.mchsi.com/, I get Mediacom’s web site.

There are few things more embarrassing to me than firing off an angry message to someone who is supposedly responsible for a problem, and being wrong. By double checking who owns the remote host’s IP address using two different tools (whois and nslookup) I minimize the chance of making myself look like an idiot.

A quick glance at the web site and it appears they are an ISP. Now if I copy the entire message including the headers into a new email message and send it to abuse@mchsi.com with a short message explaining the situation, they may do something about it.


But what about Maricela Paulson? There really is no way to determine who sent a message, the best you can hope for is to find out what host sent it. Even in the case of a PGP signed messages there is no guarantee that one particular person actually pressed the send button. Obviously determining who the actual sender of an email message is much more involved than reading the From header. Hopefully this example may be of some use to other forum regulars.

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