Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pwnin sum n00bz, A.K.A. Tracking Sent Emails.

A Tip of the Hat to myself tonight for helping out my buddy. Here was the "sitch":

My friend was receiving strange emails about strange things from someone who would not reveal themselves (I rigidly avoided the PC "him- or herself" as well as the practical but now "misogynistic" masculine default "himself" to bring you the stuffy tail-end of the predicate to that sentence -- I hope you enjoyed it). The "anonymous" emailer (which reminded me of the #9 reply to my Psychological Experiment Number One for reasons that will soon become clear to you, my faithful readers) obviously knew my friend's email address and my friend's name, so something was fishy.

The details of these emails were personal in nature, and are not the focus of this post. My friend asked for my help in trying to track down the location from where the emails were sent. I knew it was fairly easy to find out, but I'd never done it before and didn't really know where to start. A quick Google search started me down the right avenue, and soon I realized I would need the header information on the original emails to get further.

An email header is like an envelope for an email (read the Wiki link there for more info on that). I got my friend to send me the header info of the email, and then, instead of reading through long, boring guides on how to track emails (I knew I was close), I simply sent myself an email (I coincidentally have the same email service as where the email originated and went to), found out my own IP address, looked to see where my IP address showed up in the header for my own email (there are a lot of numbers in email headers!), and then looked in that location at the "anonymous" emails' headers to find out where these emails were coming from. (It turned out to be somewhere in Tennessee that rang a bell for my friend.)

Strangely enough, the hardest part was finding out how to uncover the headers in some email programs. So, to sum it up, and to help out if you need to do this:

Here's a guide to displaying headers within different email services

Here's a site that will show you your own IP address (it's in the search box when it loads) and where you can also search for others' IPs

Here's another good IP searching site

And since I like to teach people how to fish: try looking in your own email headers for your IP address, and then you can start finding out where all those chain emails of a dog licking glass at work originated (...maybe?). (Hint: The pertinent IP address will be next to a "Received:" and will probably be close to a "HTTP" if you use a web-based email client.)

So, there you go. A needlessly long anecdote ending in a slightly obscure and confusing way for people to go about learning how to check email headers. Sounds like what I do at work every day.

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