China remains spam haven due to 'bulletproof' hosting

Chinese hosting companies and registrars sometimes ignore complaints, which perpetuates fraud and spam

An overwhelming majority of Web sites promoted through spam are hosted in China at service providers that many times choose to ignore complaints and allow illegal activity, according to research from the University of Alabama.

Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics in the university's computer and information sciences department, wrote on his blog that it is well past the time to declare a spam crisis in China.

The university reviewed millions of spam messages seen throughout this year from its Spam Data Mine, which analyzes junk mail for threats. In those messages were links to hundreds of thousands of Web sites.

A total of 69,117 unique domains hosted those Web sites. Seventy percent -- or 48,552 -- hosted Web sites that ended in ".cn," the country-code top level domain for China. Again, about 70 percent of Web sites were located on computers within China.

"It is very normal that more than one-third of the domain names we see each day in spam messages come from China," Warner wrote. "When one also considers the many '.com' and '.ru' domain names which are also hosted in China, the problem is much worse."

Typically when scammy Web sites are detected, security companies will send a complaint to a hosting company, which may also act as a registrar, or seller of domain names. The site is typically taken offline.

However, some companies in China and elsewhere offer so-called "bulletproof" hosting, where Web sites are allowed to stay online or spam operations can continue unabated.

China is also attractive because of its low costs. A domain name can be bought for as little as $0.15, which allows scammers to acquire lots of domain names on the cheap. Domain names cost much more in the U.S., where some of the money goes to fighting abuse and spam, Warner wrote. But the low revenue stream in China is likely hampering the creation of programs to stop abuse.

"More than half of all spam either uses domain names registered in China, is sent from computers in China or uses computers in China to host their Web pages," Warner wrote.

Warner gives some network operations and registrars the benefit of the doubt, writing that they may have not yet developed effective ways to handle complaints and knock cybercriminals off their systems.

Others, however, ignore complaints, such as in the case of a hosting provider that was instrumental in keeping alive the Waledac botnet, known for sending out worm-ridden spam. Warner wrote that complaints have been sent in English and Chinese to no response.

"I truly believe that the Chinese government would not willingly tolerate this horrible situation," Warner wrote. "My only answer is that it must not have been properly brought to their attention so far."

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