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Thursday, June 14, 2012


The Spam email from Emma was not the first of its kind. It was headed: “Terrible Situation......Please i need your help” (see Textbook 2). A similar email was dispatched from Dedan “Gilo” Jn Baptiste (Blog Editor for Choiseul-on-the Move) on the same day (See Textbox 1). I didn't know of the Minister's whereabouts; but I knew for a fact that Gilo was in Roblot, Choiseul and that there was no way he could be stranded in Godliman Street, London, as the email suggested. 

Previously, a similar spam caused Dr Tennyson Joseph much embarrassment to the point where he had to abandon his hacked email account.

Many high profile public and private figures have been victims/subjects of that type of attempted cyber-fraud and malice.

Two questions are: (1) How is it possible that those Spams can happen? And why would a service provider allow their embarrassing proliferation which can potentially bring so much psychological harm to the victims? 

This time around, the Powerhouse decided to do a little bit of investigative cyber-journalism. Our Telecommunications consultant was commissioned to look into Emma’s email and provide us with some insight and feedback on what could have possibly happened.

The consultant reported: These emails almost always originate from Nigeria. In this case the email was sent from an IP address linked to an African domain (does not necessarily mean the person is from that part of the world).”

He further reported: “Someone may be running an open mail relay on his server/PC. Anyone (anywhere) can connect to these and pretend the traffic came from there.)”

An open mail relay (OMR) is an SMTP server configured in such a way that it allows anyone on the Internet to send e-mail through it, not just mail destined to or originating from known users. OMR was the default configuration in many mail servers. In fact, it was the way the Internet was initially set up; but OMRs have become unpopular they are generally exploited by spammers and worms – as apparently was the case of an organisation propagating those unfortunate Spam emails in the names of unsuspecting victims. Consequently, many relays were closed, or were placed on blacklists by other servers.

The PowerHouse consultant went on to identify the name of the company where the email originated, namely the African & Indian Ocean Internet Registry (AfriNIC - He gave us the email address ( and telephone number (+230 4666616) and suggested that the company would have to be contacted for further details.

We learned from the AfriNIC Website ( that “AfriNIC is a web-based portal designed for AfriNIC members to manage their contact information, resources, billing and support requests through a simple, graphical, user-friendly interface”.

The operations of the company are run by a board of directors. It seems to be a pretty reputable organization.

The question is: why would a seemingly reputable organization allow itself to be embroiled in that mess?

In our attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, we took the advice of our consultant and placed a call to the AfriNIC. In our first attempt, we got a voicemail. So we tried again next day!

This time, Bingo! We got through! The lady who answered categorically denied any such knowledge and involvement of her company. She then asked for my name and telephone number and said she would put me onto someone who could assist me. When the call apparently didn’t go through, she promised to call back.

Davina Armon
Member Services Liaison
Yes! Indeed she returned the call almost immediately. She said she was calling from Mauritius and her name was Davina Armon. Among other things, she requested the IP address of the Spammer! She always requested that the email (with the complete header) be forwarded to her (at hostmaster and promised that her company would investigate fully.

I have already received an acknowledgement of the email sent to Afrinet and they promised to reply within one day.

Meanwhile, we implore the victims (or potential victims) of that type of Spam to be extra careful, for even when we know those emails are Spam, we are also aware of the consequences, especially for people like Minister Emma Hippolyte. Among other things, we implore internet users to always logoff from their email account, especially when they use a public computer and be careful of suspicious emails or websites.

We will keep you posted on our findings!

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