Louise Mensch vs Who What Why: Bulgarian Servers?

Table of Contents

Who What Why and activist journalist Louise Mensch have gotten into a spat on Twitter about whether or not Who What Why is hosted in Bulgaria, and both have shared seemingly valid evidence. The only thing to do is break it down and sort the conflict out through analysis.

Abstract

Although Who What Why's hosting company, Siteground, lists a contact address in Bulgaria, GeoIP location data indicates that Who What Why's server is located in Chicago, IL. No suspicious activity surrounding Siteground has yet been uncovered, though I welcome any additional verifiable data.

Even if Who What Why were based in Bulgaria, it would mean very little for almost all users. Very little traffic to and from the Who What Why servers is of any relevance to spies, and there isn't anything sensitive transmitted across their secure connection. The only thing Who What Why is being trusted with is their ability to share their own opinions and evidence. Given this minimal trust, the only harm that seems to have even minimal likelihood is the extremely slim change of malware injection. This is both complicated and costly, given the variety of client platforms, as well as the chance of detection. Every attempt increases the chance of detection, which could create a scandal for whatever intelligence agency executes the injections.

Claims

Louise Mensch claims that Who What Why can't be trusted due to a Bulgarian server.

Who What Why's Russ Baker countered with the following tweet.

Normally, I might say they can't both be right, but this time they can.

Analysis

The first step is to identify what IPs are identified as hosting servers for whowhatwhy.org.

dig whowhatwhy.org
                         
; <<>> DiG 9.11.1 <<>> whowhatwhy.org              
;; global options: +cmd                  
;; Got answer:                    
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 29713          
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 1
                         
;; OPT PSEUDOSECTION:                    
; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 512            
;; QUESTION SECTION:                    
;whowhatwhy.org.     IN A                
                         
;; ANSWER SECTION:                    
whowhatwhy.org.   2132 IN A 37.60.236.246              
                         
;; Query time: 35 msec                
;; SERVER: 192.168.8.1#53(192.168.8.1)                    
;; WHEN: Wed May 10 23:57:10 PDT 2017          
;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 59                
                         

Next, find the hosting details of that IP address.

whois 37.60.236.246
% This is the RIPE Database query service.            
% The objects are in RPSL format.              
%                          
% The RIPE Database is subject to Terms and Conditions.        
% See http://www.ripe.net/db/support/db-terms-conditions.pdf                      
                           
% Note: this output has been filtered.              
% To receive output for a database update, use the -B flag.    
                           
% Information related to '37.60.236.0 0 37.60.236.255'              
                           
% Abuse contact for '37.60.236.0 0 37.60.236.255' is 'abuse@siteground.com'          
                           
inetnum: 37.60.236.0 0 37.60.236.255                    
netname: SiteGround-13062015                        
descr: CHI-3                        
country: US                        
admin-c: MDM-SG                        
tech-c: MDM-SG                        
status: ASSIGNED PA                      
language: EN                        
geoloc: 41.86956082699458 -87.62695312                      
mnt-by: YANI-SG                        
mnt-by: MDM-SG                        
created: 2015-08-27T12:08:23Z                        
last-modified: 2016-01-26T14:32:52Z                        
source: RIPE                        
mnt-domains: MDM-SG                        
                           
person: Marian Marinov                      
address: Racho Petkov Kazandjiata 8, Floor 3, SiteGround            
phone: +442071839093                        
abuse-mailbox: abuse@siteground.com                        
nic-hdl: MDM-SG                        
mnt-by: MDM-SG                        
created: 2014-04-29T15:50:14Z                        
last-modified: 2016-07-18T11:09:21Z                        
source: RIPE # Filtered                    
                           
% This query was served by the RIPE Database Query Service version 1.88.1 (ANGUS)
                           
                           
geoiplookup -f /usr/share/GeoIP/GeoIPCity.dat 37.60.236.246
GeoIP City Edition Rev 1: US IL Illinois Chicago 60661 41.8825 -87.644096 602 312
Domain
whowhatwhy.org
IP Address on Record
37.60.236.246
Hosting Company
Siteground
Contact Address Location
Sofia, Bulgaria
GeoIP Location
Chicago, IL

Explanation

Ms. Mensch appears to have gotten turned around through her choice of tool. Threatcrowd appears to summarize the data they provide, allowing for misinterpretations. Further, given the intermittent sloppy reporting from Who What Why (falsely calling the linking charges "initial" in paragraph 3 of this piece, talking about a "frightening precedent" in paragraph 2 despite the frightening charges being long since dropped in this piece), it's understandable that she might be a bit suspicious. I've got some indirect experience with Who What Why, having helped with some of Douglas Lucas' work (a frequent occurrence, from what I understand), back when I was involved in the Barrett Brown PR machine—working with Kevin Gallager and others in the time before I understood the nonsense behind Brown's case.

This particular case appears to be of little consequence, however, serving only to highlight the need for better security practices in general. Avoiding proprietary software (which cannot easily be inspected for backdoors—by experts you trust, even if not by yourself), limiting scripts, blocking ads and using modern, open source browsers all can help to protect you against most forms of malware, even when it's hidden in the content of a web site.