“This Guy Hunts Down The Men Behind Revenge Porn Websites” by Kashmir Hill

Kashmir Hill gives insight into one man’s journey identifying the anonymous perpetrators running so called “revenge” porn websites. This is an excerpt from a recent article published by Forbes. The source of this excerpt is http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/04/23/this-guy-hunts-down-the-men-behind-revenge-porn-websites/

Adam Steinbaugh’s full time time job is working as a law clerk for a solo practitioner in Los Angeles. What he’s passionate about is his weird side hobby: revenge porn vigilantism. Over the last two years, he has spent hundreds of hours tracking down the identities of the people– who inevitably turn out to be men — running “revenge porn websites,” where naked photos meant for just one loved one are put on public exhibition, often exposing the person’s name, contact information and Facebook profile along with their private parts. On his blog, Steinbaugh has helped expose the “white-hat hacker”/porn actor behind Texxxan, the dubious dynamic duo running YouGotPosted, and the Oklahoman drummer operating WinByState; he is currently hunting down the owners of other such sites, many with names that I can’t print here at Forbes.

image courtesy of Forbes.

image courtesy of Forbes.

“I was really pissed off at what was being done to these men and women and wanted to do something about it,” says Steinbaugh, 31.

[…]

“I get death threats and threatened with lawsuits,” he says. He hasn’t been sued yet but those he has exposed have. The guys behind YouGotPosted got hit with a $385,000 default judgment for posting child porn.

[…]

While the people submitting other people’s nude pics can get into legal trouble (to the tune of $500,000 in some cases), the site operators are usually protected thanks to the law protecting content providers from liability for things that their users do and write. Despite that, and perhaps as a result of Hunter Moore’s experience, many other operators of revenge porn sites keep to the shadows. Steinbaugh does his best to out them, exposing them as they have helped in the exposure of so many others.

[…]

Before law school, Steinbaugh spent a year at MySpace as a security abuse specialist, pursuing people who were spamming the site or posting inappropriate content. That involved tracking down IP addresses and reporting the culprits to ISPs and advertising networks. He started his revenge porn operator hunting after he finished law school at Loyola in Los Angeles in 2012. He was inspired by the work of legal blogger Marc Randazza who suspected an extortion scheme at nude-pic-posting site IsAnybodyDown, citing evidence that the guy running it was pretending to be a lawyer under another name who one could pay $250 to “fight” to get pictures taken off the site.

[…]

Steinbaugh’s hunt usually starts with a WhoIs search to see what contact information was used to register a site, which is helpful unless they’ve used a privacy proxy to hide their details. He uses another search tool, DomainTools, to look at which other websites are hosted on the same server; the contact information on those websites may not be hidden as was the case for a Texan “penetration tester” who was hosting his mother’s website on the same server as his dirty Texxxan porn site. Steinbaugh looks at the metadata on the logos on the website with an EXIF extractor. He uses archive.org to look at the history of the site and its Terms of Service to find any identifying clues. He’ll look at the metadata associated with email messages — which for example linked the IsAnybodyDown operator’s email to the non-existent lawyer’s email address. And he scrawls though the code for the website for any comments that might lead to someone’s identity or for information leaked through advertising on the site. It will often include an affiliate code that the advertisers uses to pay someone for the traffic they sent. “These guys use the same affiliate code which they use on other websites that are more legitimate, so I can see that Website A and Revenge Porn Website B have the same affiliate code,” he says.

His Sherlocking isn’t always digital. Sometimes it’s through good old-fashioned anonymous sources or through contacting the people who are the first revenge porn victims on the site. “When these guys first start these sites, they tend to post photos of people they know and that will often provide leads,” he says.

And there’s information sharing among a cohort of people who are working to stop sites like this, including victims of revenge porn who have started advocacy groups and academics such as Danielle Citron (a Forbes colleague) and Mary Anne Franks.

This is a significantly shortened excerpt. To read the full article, please visit the Forbes website http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/04/23/this-guy-hunts-down-the-men-behind-revenge-porn-websites/

Kashmir Hill is a technology journalistic for forbes.com