Tools To Identify Anonymous Users Online
Corporate investigator Brandon Gregg explains how online services and tools can help crack a case
By Brandon Gregg
July 06, 2009 — CSO — After posting 5 Free Ways to Track Online Leaks of Information, I received numerous requests asking how to identify the online source leaking the confidential company information. Here are some techniques a corporate investigator can use to identify anonymous users online.
In most cases the crooked insider is doing one of three methods: Posting to an online message board (i.e. Yahoo Finance Board), creating a URL along the lines of YourCompanySucks.com, or emailing your company, clients and competitors. In all three scenarios it is also likely that he or she is using a fake and anonymous email address that does not identify them outright (i.e. email@example.com, rather than BGregg@email.com). Luckily for us, most insiders are still failing to hide their IP address even within their "anonymous" email. Once you have that address you can lookup basic information at whatismyipaddress.com.
Although Internet Service Providers diligently project the identities of their users (unless you have a court subpoena), using some of these tricks during regular office hours may pull your insider into one of the many traps below while at work. Even a fake Gmail account used on the insider's company network will show the company IP address that your IT department can legally pinpoint to the user.
First, confirm if the email is a randomly created address. Using Intelius' reverse email lookup, you can confirm (for free) whether the address belongs to anyone. If the email is registered to a name, you can pay a fee of $4.95 and close your investigation.
A powerful second tool is Spokeo.com. Register for the website and search the insider's email address. The service it will do a deep web search of multiple blogs, social networking sites, and photo sharing websites, and even confirm the email address is active. I cannot tell you how many times this website has closed my investigations. Often the insider uses a random, old email address that he or she hasn't used in years and Spokeo tracks it back to a Flickr photo of them—case closed.
After you have identified that the insider's email address is a freshly created, anonymous account, there are two options to get their IP address.
A) Convince them to email you directly and identify the IP address in the received header or this quick email IP tool, or
B) sign up for ReadNotify.com and email the insider. Even if the insider only opens up your convincing email (RE: I Know Who You Are), read notify will automatically and covertly send back a snapshot of the reader's IP address, the date and time the message was opened, location of recipient (per their ISP city /town), map of location, apparent email address of opening (if available), referrer details (ie; if accessed via web mail etc), URL clicks, how long the email was read for, how many times your email was opened and if your email was forwarded, or opened on a different computer. If this is done during office hours and your insider likes to check their email at work, you got them.