While cleaning out my spam folders, I noticed a disturbing trend: a number of the spam were sent to vendor-specific email addresses I had set up to communicate with Parallels, Joyent and Shoeboxed. As a security measure, I do not give my personal email address to vendors, only aliases. The email address I used in the past for Dell was dell@majid.fm, for instance (I now use a different domain). A few years back, I started receiving pornographic spam at that address, which led me to think either Dell had secretly adopted a radically new diversification plan, or that their customer database had been compromised. Needless to say, this did not reflect well on Dell. I canceled that alias and stopped dealing with Dell.

I contacted the support for the three vendors. Joyent got back to me, and said:

We have traced this back to a third-party provider that was used to distribute service notifications. We have been in contact with this service provider, and they have determined that subscriber email addresses of their clients were compromised. They have launched their own investigation, which is ongoing, and have also reached out to their local FBI office.

After some digging, I found some interesting posts. Some email marketing company called iContact, that I had never heard about before, was the source of the compromise. They claim to be SAS-70 compliant, but of course like most bureaucratic certifications, SAS-70 is mostly security theater that makes sysadmins’ life miserable for no meaningful security benefit (SAS-70 auditors, on the other hand, profit handsomely).

Just another example of how outsourcing critical functions to outside vendors can backfire spectacularly and take down your own reputation in the process.