Category Archives: Pastebin and password lists

In the past few days, has been cited in a wide variety of high-profile news sources regarding a “leak” of email account passwords.

This brought a huge surge in visitors, and ensuring I kept the server functioning took up all my available spare time. I wrote a short blog entry which attracted a lot of comments. Things are a little calmer now, so I’m writing this longer post to explain what happened.

This looks like a long post, just tell me my email account wasn’t compromised…

  • I do not have copy of the list
  • and….I do not have a copy of the list
  • just to be clear….I do not have a copy of the list

Microsoft investigated and have frozen the affected accounts on their systems and if you find yourself locked out of your account, fill out their recovery form to regain control.

Aside from that, if you’ve ever entered your email login details into anything but your providers web page, then I recommend you change your password. It’s likely that the leaked list came from a much larger set – just seeing the published isn’t enough to be sure your details have not been compromised.

So, even if you are just a bit concerned, just change your password. Go on. I’ll wait.

All done? Now read on for the gory details….

Sometime prior to October 3rd 2009…

…some unknown bad guys start collecting email addresses and passwords.

We can be pretty sure that they didn’t “hack into” Microsoft or any other major email provider to obtain the passwords. These companies should not actually store your password, they just store a fingerprint of it (what developers call a cryptographic hash).

To extend this analogy to the real world: if you emailed me your fingerprint, I couldn’t tell what you looked like, i.e. I could not reconstruct you just from that fingerprint. However, I could verify your identity if I met you by taking your fingerprint and comparing to the one I had stored.

So, when you log in and send your password, they take the fingerprint of what you entered, and compare with the fingerprint stored in their database.

So if they didn’t hack into a provider, where did they get them?

The most likely, and perhaps surprising, answer is that they simply asked the users for them. For example, they could create an authentic, safe looking site which promises to tell you who has blocked you on MSN Chat – all you need to do is enter your MSN account details.

Some researchers have also suggested the details were harvested by infecting PCs with keylogging software.

Oct 3rd, 04:00 UTC – Bad guys post 10,000 passwords on

For reasons unknown, our miscreants post a set of hotmail addresses and passwords on the website.

A sharp eyed user spotted the posting, or found it via a Google search, and it reached the attention of a tech news blog called Neowin.

Oct 3rd, 16:45 UTC – post is flagged as abuse

If users spot a post which appears not to belong on pastebin, they can flag it for attention. I check these flagged posts daily, and it’s a very rapid and streamlined process:

The software presents me the first 10 lines of the post, together with a link I can click if I think the post should be deleted. Generally it’s pretty easy to determine if something doesn’t belong, and a list of email addresses and passwords is obviously not going to make the cut.

So, someone spotted the post and flagged it. The next morning, Oct 4th, at 07:29 I saw the first 10 lines, and deleted the post in a heartbeat before realising the true scale of the list which subsequently caught media attention.

Oct 5th – Blog posts gather momentum

After Neowin posted their article on October 5th, interest in the story steadily grew.

Oct 6th – Mainstream media catches the story

I was up early on that day to check on the traffic and see if any special action would be needed. Having read the growing number of news articles I took the following action

  • Added additional rules to the content filters on to ensure hotmail addresses could not be posted
  • Began searching all existing posts to ensure no further copies remained

Traffic levels were so high that the search was running at a crawl, so I closed the site so the cleanup would complete, and left for my office.

I reopened the site late afternoon UK time, and continue to monitor the traffic to ensure it remained as usable as possible.

OK, so why didn’t you keep a copy?

Let me abuse Pulp Fiction for a moment:

  • Jimmie: “Now let me ask you a question, Jules. When you drove in here, did you notice a sign out in front that said, “Email password storage”?”
  • Jules: “Jimmie…”
  • Jimmie: “Answer the question! Did you see a sign out in front of my house that said “Email password storage”?”
  • Jules: “Naw man, I didn’t.”
  • Jimmie: “You know why you didn’t see that sign?”
  • Jules: “Why?”
  • Jimmie: “‘Cause storin’ email passwords ain’t my fuckin’ business!”

Now, if it happens again, I may act differently. Security professionals at some large companies have expressed interest in helping their users if such a list could be made available to them. I’m more interested in enhancing the content filters on pastebin to ensure that text that looks like a list of email addresses is simply rejected.

Even if your email address wasn’t on the list, if you think you’re the kind of person who is prone to phishing scams, just change your password. If you didn’t understand that last sentence, just change your password.

The published list was likely much larger, since it seems it was alphabetically ordered and only got as far as ‘b’. Having possession of that list will not help you determine if your address has been not been compromised.

More links

Can I ask a question?

Sure! As long as it’s not “is my address on the list?” and the Hotmail password leak

It seems that a list of 10,000 Hotmail usernames and passwords has been posted on in recent days.

Pastebin was created as a tool to aid software development, not to distribute this sort of material.

As a result of the interest this story is generating, is experiencing huge levels of activity – as a result I took it offline to ensure all the offending material has been removed, and have adjusted the abuse filters prevent re-occurence.

Edit: please don’t ask if you name was on the list. I have no way of knowing. Just change your password.

Edit #2: things have calmed down now, and I’ve written a longer post about the incident here.

Pastebin, the Ti-89 signing keys, and the DMCA

I’ve had a DMCA takedown request sent in relation to a pastebin post containing the signing keys for a range of Texas Instruments calculators which, if I understand correctly, allow you to digitally sign a replacement operating system so that the hardware will accept it.

If you buy a piece of hardware, I firmly believe you should be able to do whatever you like with it, and people installing their own operating systems and *improving the damn product* is something TI should be happy about.

There’s a blog over at which is enthusiastic about this sort thing, and you can read wide and varied discussion about the issue on SlashDot too. (Edit: on 23rd Sep The Register weighed in with this article)

So, here is the DMCA takedown request Texas Instruments sent to me:

September 17, 2009
To Whom It May Concern:
Re: Illegal Offering of Material to Circumvent TI Copyright Protections
VIA: report abuse at

It has come to our attention that the web site, contains material and/or links to material that violate the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). This letter is to notify you, in accordance with the provisions of the DMCA, of these unlawful activities. Pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, we request that you remove any whole or partial reproductions of and/or disable links to the following:

The post located on

Texas Instruments Incorporated (“TI”) owns the copyright in the TI-83 Plus, TI84 Plus and TI-89 operating system software. The TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus and TI-89 operating systems use encryption to effectively control access to the operating system code and to protect its rights as a copyright owner in that code. Any unauthorized use of these files is strictly prohibited. is distributing or providing links to information that bypasses TI’s anti-circumvention technology. By providing copies of or offering links to such information, has violated the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA at 17 U.S.C. §§ 1201(a)(2) and 1201(b)(1).

Please confirm to the undersigned in writing no later than noon on September 18, 2009 that you have complied with these demands. You may reach the undersigned by telephone at (xxx) xxx-xxxx or by email at TI reserves all further rights and remedies with respect to this matter.
I hereby confirm that I have a good faith belief that use of the Illegal Material in the manner complained of in this letter is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law, that the information in this letter is accurate, and that, under penalty of perjury, I am authorized to act on behalf of TI, the owner of the exclusive rights in the TI-83 Plus, TI-84 Plus and TI-89 operating system software that are allegedly misappropriated using unlawful methods.
Texas Instruments Incorporated

Manager, Business Services
Education Technology Group

I live in the UK, and is hosted in the UK, so hitting me with a DMCA takedown request is rather pointless. However, I do remove copyrighted content on request, so much as it pains me to do so, I’ve deleted that post for now.

It’s no biggie, if you want the keys, just check wikileaks or do a Google search for 82EF4009ED7CAC2A5EE12B5F8E8AD9A0. That’s just a long hexadecimal number. Pretty sure I’m free to express that number in any form I like.

Can you say “Streisand Effect”?

Edit: Interesting post here on dealing with these TI DMCA notices. Persoanlly, I’m not interested in fighting to keep the post on as it is widely available elsewhere. I have a copy of the keys should I ever wish to actively distribute them though…

Edit#2, Oct 14th 2009: The Electronic Frontier Foundation have written the following about this issue: EFF Warns Texas Instruments to Stop Harassing Calculator Hobbyists.