1.4 billion email addresses leaked by spammers

Most of the big leaks you read about in the news will usually be the result of some very sophisticated hacking, with everyone from Yahoo to the NHS falling victim to the perseverance and skill of hackers. Sometimes however, information can be leaked in a much more simplistic way, it can even happen as a result of someone being a tad careless when it comes to setting up a backup. When Chris Vickery and Steve Ragan, both of whom work in the cyber security industry, found themselves stumbling across a database that appeared to have over a billion records, chances are they probably couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

There was no username or password required to access the huge amounts of data, in fact there was no encryption at all, which meant the entire database was left entirely open and exposed.

Vickery has since stated that the data they discovered was from a group or organisation that went by the name of ‘River City Media’ (RCM). He went on to say that the group sent up to a billion emails every single day. In addition to discovering all of the email addresses on the list, the leak also contained some physical addresses. Additionally, Vickery and Ragan came across a number of detailed documents which exposed how RCM run their spam operation.

A few of those documents made for particularly interesting reading because they showcased just how much money can be made from spamming. A text reference found by the pair showed that in one day of activity, the group specifically targeted users of Gmail and AOL by sending 33 million emails. The total amount made from the activity came to a huge $36,000.

Quite how the group, which is supposedly made up of just 12, managed to amass a mailing list so big and send emails in such quantities every day can only be explained through illegal hacking techniques. Vickery believes it was those techniques, along with many years of research and automation, that has allowed the spammers to expand their operation. They are also likely to come across emails from other spammers who share their databases once hackers dump them online.

It goes some way towards explaining how your email account gets so clogged up with emails from people who are trying to sell you pretty much anything you can think of. Even if you are extremely careful about who you share your email address with, all it takes is one of the legitimate services who have your email address on record to get hacked, and you can expect to start receiving spam.

A leak of personal information on this scale can be incredibly nerve wracking, and although the leak meant that RCM have been blacklisted, it’s fair to assume that there are plenty of other people who came across their data too, and some of those could be sophisticated hackers.

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