Dana Stibolt

Unraveling a subscription bombing attack!

This morning, I received an email followed by an even more desperate voicemail from a new customer regarding what he called a “subscription bombing” attack.

I called the customer and asked him to forward six or seven emails so I could see what was going on. Sure enough, he had been signed up for like thousands of email newsletters and was getting subscription confirmations and other weird emails from all over the world. When I spoke to him early this morning, he had already received over 1000 emails, and he could not work since his inbox was full and filling back up as fast as he could delete items.

I had heard of this before and filed it away as a dirty black bag trick people used for revenge or harassment. What I did not know in regards to this type of attack was that “subscription bombing” is often used as a diversion and confusion tactic by the bad guys, What they hope to accomplish is for you to get FLOODED with emails to the point where you cannot see the forest through the trees, and valid emails from places like your bank cannot be seen because all the junk buries them!

I knew I wanted to help this customer, but I was not 100% sure of the best way to solve his crazy email problem; I had a good idea that my colleague Phil Quesinberry from Q Systems Engineering would know precisely what to do.

Within 30 minutes, Phil had this customer’s MX records changed to his server and set up a custom email filter to catch all garbage coming in. Now there were still a TON of emails that had been delivered, but in the next few hours, Phil blocked almost 1000 new emails from reaching the customer’s inbox, and Phil created some custom rules for his proprietary email filtering service to help catch more emails originating from overseas. By the next day, Phil’s filter had blocked nearly 4000 emails.

The cool thing is that Phil and I were able to team up on this solution and come up with an emergency fix that was able to start working almost immediately so this customer’s valid email could get through while Phil’s proprietary algorithms filtered out the garbage email.

Also, our new customer had set his domain provider to host his email. This was worrisome as free email services bundled with other services from a domain provider are sometimes not very full-featured and be subject to data limits to the point where the account can occasionally be suspended.

The customer still uses the same service, but Phil’s custom email filter is now between the Internet and this new customer’s email inbox.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? Here are two old-school Severna Park computer nerds teaming up with almost 86 years of combined computer skills to solve a big problem. Dana met Phil at The Computer Forum, Dana’s parent’s computer store that they started in 1980 in Severna Park, Maryland.

Are you having email issues yourself? Phil and Dana can set you up with a best-in-class email hosting provider and create a custom SPAM filtering solution to help manage all the traffic that is trying to land in your inbox!