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10/12/2007
02:20 PM
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Russian Spammer Murder Story Deemed A Hoax

Security professionals and bloggers suggest a hacker going by the name Alexey Tolstokozhev may never have existed.

Contrary to rumors circulating on the Internet, Russian spammers are alive and well.

A blog post on Thursday by someone writing under the name Alex Loonov claimed that Alexey Tolstokozhev, a Russian spammer, had been found murdered in his house near Moscow.

Tolstokozhev "has been shot several times with one bullet stuck in his head," the post says. "According to authorities, this last head shot is a clear mark of Russian hit men (known as "killers" in Russia)."

To many security professionals, the post had the clear marks of a hoax.

On his company's blog, Alex Eckelberry, president and CEO of Sunbelt Software, noted, "Alexey Tolstokozhev doesn't show up on ROKSO [Register of Known Spam Operations]. He doesn't show up on any Web searches. And no one I know in the security industry has ever heard of this guy."

Eckelberry also observed that the site belonging to "Alex Loonov" had been registered that very day, at a domain registrar known for hosting disreputable content.

Other bloggers provided further details debunking the supposed killing.

The fact that the story spread like wildfire online may have something to do with the way that social engineering attacks of this sort offer wish fulfillment -- no one likes a spammer and everyone likes to think that justice gets done. It may also have something to do with a similar story that circulated in 2005 and was also widely covered.

That story, too, it appears, was misleading, at least as initially reported.

Notorious spammer Vladimir Kushnir was found dead in his apartment, bludgeoned to death in July 2005. The story received considerable attention, probably because there are a lot of people who'd like to see spammers punished. But subsequent reports indicated that Russian authorities did not believe that spamming led to Kushnir's demise; they attributed it to a robbery gone wrong.

Why bother with such a hoax? Perhaps a phisher is testing the response rate for telling people what they want to hear.

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