CNN Emailed Malware To Unmask Meme Creator

Fact checked
CNN caught emailing malware in order to unmask anonymous critics online

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski was so desperate to unmask the Trump-CNN meme creator, he emailed him malware in order to discover his identity. 

The former Buzzfeed columnist and current presenter of CNN’s KFile has been found out to have used a series of illegal doxxing techniques in order to get his ‘scoop’ for the network. reports  By seeming to plant foreign web bugs into personal emails, a common phishing tactic used to determine IP address, location, and other identifying information, new questions have been raised regarding ethical practices inside the troubled news network.

A recent email exchange with an anonymous conservative group has been obtained by Media Equalizer. In the discussion, Kaczynski feigns interest in a scoop that’s being offered.

At one point, he attempts to sneak a web bug into the conversation, with the apparent goal of luring the recipient into clicking the link. Doing so would give Kaczynski the IP address, location, and other metadata included in the email recipient’s account.

The online world was set ablaze this week by Trump’s tweet featuring an old WWE video, and the subsequent investigation into who created the memed video.

Kaczynski claims he discovered the identity of the online Reddit user who created the animated GIF by, as he says in his own report, “determin[ing] key biographical details, to find the man’s name using a Facebook search and ultimately corroborate details he had made available on Reddit.”

He does not state whether those details were made available voluntarily.

Kaczynski issued a now-infamous statement accepting the apology of the original creator of the video. After the anonymous man agreed to stop being “offensive” on Reddit, Kaczynski magnanimously offered not to reveal who he was — but that “CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.”

Now, he’s done it again.

The web bug that Kaczynski uses,, is based in Spain and seems inoccuous enough. It is advertised as a way for email marketers and business professionals to track whether emails are being opened.

Much like the tools available in MailChimp or Constant Contact, it reports when an email was opened, who opened it, how many times it was opened, which links were clicked, and the like.

What it also does is provide the IP address, location, computer used, time when the link was clicked, operating system and browser, and cookie information.

All the email recipient has to do is click on the link, not suspecting that it redirects to another website that gathers all this information in a flash.

Phishers can use this information to narrow down possible identities, and can use social media searches to fill in the blanks.

As noted at Ricochet in the wake of the controversy about Trump’s tweet:

This isn’t Kaczynski’s first attempt at destroying a private citizen’s life. As a BuzzFeed reporter, he gained notoriety for publicizing a lame joke Tweeted by a 30-year-old PR director named Justine Sacco. As Sacco was boarding a plane from London to Cape Town, South Africa, she poked fun at many people’s poor understanding of the continent.

Kaczynski decided the joke was racist and helped gin up a digital lynch mob while she was in the air for 11 hours sans internet. By the time Sacco landed, she was mobbed by reporters, was fired from her job, and had to go into hiding. [Update: Another link demonstrating Kaczynski’s role is here.]

Is it possible that Kaczynski installed this Gmail extension with the best of intentions? Sure.

Is it also possible that CNN as an organization uses this tool for legitimate reasons? Absolutely.

The Media Equalizer has reached out to him and will update our story with any response.

Given Kaczynski’s past activities, however and the current controversy that is swirling around him, it would seem that he ought to clear the air on exactly how he uncovered the Reddit user behind the video.

In addition, he should disclose what he intended to do with the tip from the anonymous conservative group mentioned in this story, and how he’s using the information he uncovers.

Instead of merely reporting it, Kaczynski has seemingly become the story.

1 Comment

  1. That which you’ve just described is not malware. Nor is it a bug.

    It’s a miniature picture, microscopic picture, also known as a tracking beacon. It is used in sales to determine if and when an email is opened. (Disable automatic loading of images and you are good.)

    Any website you visit, including those loading pictures we see on this page, get and have that very same information. It’s just a method to directly gather that information through an email.

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