Warning: HostGator leaks your cPanel usernames, script path, and more


Once upon a time the HostGator was a great hosting company – great technical support, great prices, good performance, predictable policy, etc., and positive-thinking CEO who blogs about the company, about fortunes and failures… Fast forward to year 2012. CEO and founder Brent Oxley sells HostGator to EIG. They are famous of “acquiring a large number of smaller web hosting companies” which leads to Web hosting overselling.

From that point everything goes downhill, unfortunately. I am not going to list all the problems their users have. You can find this information using any Search engine. For example, search for: “HostGator and EIG”… and you will find plenty of information about their business practices.

Note and disclaimer. I am not affiliated with any hosting provider. I believe that there exists a way, that you can hide some of the leaked details, bet I am sure, that there is no way to make it work in the reliable way, because, HostGator are constantly changing everything, and constantly consolidating servers, and even moving your server between datacenters located in different physical locations, changing Apache HTTP server to nginx server (breaking changes?), and this all without any notice or warning to its users. And most of the users are uninformed, so you can not expect that they will be able to protect their websites, scripts, assets, etc.

Now about the security issue. When you send email from HostGator, using their Web Mail, or using your Desktop email client or .PHP script, you are always leaking your username. In the case of script, you are also leaking the script name, full path to the script, and also some random domain names and email addresses you have in the same account. Some information is encoded in Base64 format, that can easily be decoded. Below are some examples. YOUR_USERNAME is your leaked username. YOUR_OTHER_DOMAIN is leaked other domain name in the same account, but not related to email address in any way.

Example 1
Received: from localhost ([]:11546 helo=gator3211.hostgator.com)
by gator3211.hostgator.com with esmtpsa (TLSv1:DHE-RSA-AES256-SHA:256)
(Exim 4.85)
(envelope-from )
for email2@example.com; Mon, 1 Dec 2015 11:22:44 -0200
Received: from ([]) by YOUR_OTHER_DOMAIN.hostgator.com
(Horde Framework) with HTTP; Mon, 1 Dec 2015 11:22:43 +0000
Date: Mon, 1 Dec 2015 11:22:43 +0000
Message-ID: XXXXXXXX@YOUR_OTHER_DOMAIN.hostgator.com
From: email@example.com
To: email2@example.com
Subject: Testing leak
User-Agent: Internet Messaging Program (IMP) H5 (6.1.4)
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8; format=flowed; DelSp=Yes
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Disposition: inline
X-AntiAbuse: This header was added to track abuse, please include it with any abuse report
X-AntiAbuse: Primary Hostname - gator3211.hostgator.com
X-AntiAbuse: Original Domain - YOUR_ANOTHER_DOMAIN.com
X-AntiAbuse: Originator/Caller UID/GID - [11 13] / [11 13]
X-AntiAbuse: Sender Address Domain - YET_ANOTHER_DOMAIN.com
X-BWhitelist: no
X-Source-Sender: localhost (gator3211.hostgator.com) []:11343
X-Source-Auth: email@example.com
X-Email-Count: 2
X-Source-Cap: WU9VUl9VU0VSTkFNRTtZT1VSX1VTRVJOQU1FO2dhdG9yMzIxMS5ob3N0Z2F0b3IuY29t

Note, that X-Source-Cap header decoded is:

Example 2
Received: from YOUR_USERNAME by gator3211.hostgator.com with local (Exim 4.85)
(envelope-from YOUR_USERNAME@gator3211.hostgator.com)
id XXXXXX-XXXXX-XX; Fri, 1 Dec 2015 11:22:27 -0400
To: email@example.com
Subject: Some text here...
X-PHP-Script: subdomain.example.com/folder/subfolder/your_script.php for
From: email2@example.com
Reply-To: email2@example.com
X-Mailer: PHP/5.4.45
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8
Message-Id: XXXXXX-XXXXX-XX@gator3211.hostgator.com
Date: Fri, 1 Dec 2015 11:22:27 -0400
X-AntiAbuse: This header was added to track abuse, please include it with any abuse report
X-AntiAbuse: Primary Hostname - gator3211.hostgator.com
X-AntiAbuse: Original Domain - YOUR_ANOTHER_DOMAIN.com
X-AntiAbuse: Originator/Caller UID/GID - [some random numbers here] / [and there]
X-AntiAbuse: Sender Address Domain - gator3211.hostgator.com
X-BWhitelist: no
X-Source: /opt/php54/bin/php-cgi
X-Source-Args: /opt/php54/bin/php-cgi /home2/username/blah/folder/subfolder/your_script.php
X-Source-Dir: example.org:/web/internal_dir/
X-Email-Count: 3
X-Source-Cap: WU9VUl9VU0VSTkFNRTtZT1VSX1VTRVJOQU1FO2dhdG9yMzIxMS5ob3N0Z2F0b3IuY29t

Note, that script name is not accessible from the web. It is not publicity known, and is revealed to potential attacker:

I understand, that security by obscurity is not the best security practice, but anyway, revealing internal script names without any real need in nonsense.

As you can see, the headers that was included to track the service abuse, is actually abusing you. And YOUR_ANOTHER_DOMAIN.com is yet another domain that is in the same account and is leaked too. It is different domain from OTHER domain… so at least two different domains (at random?) are leaked.

And in the second example, the full Linux path to the script is embedded into header:

This script may be your Cron job or other script, and path and script name should not be revealed to email recipient. If they really wanted to track abuse, they could store this all sensitive information in the local DB, and embed only unique ID/key to that information, in case it is later needed.

And to abuse your valuable time even more, they have placed SPAM filters for your outgoing emails with always changing filtering parameters. So you can wonder, why some of your emails are lost somewhere.

Note. This article was written at the time we still used HostGator intensively, both as Shared hosting and as Dedicated servers, but now we have switched away. And believe me, the overselling, security problems and poor support is only the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately.

Did we tried to some these issues with HostGator support. Of course. You can try too. Good luck! :) Usually they reply with, we are sorry, but we can’t do anything because of very high support volume right now.

And almost forgot to mention, that they constantly hijack your 403, 404, 500, and other error pages. They inject their own ads and banners into your page. Maybe at the time, when GeoCities and Angelfire ruled the free web hosting world that was somewhat acceptable, but now in the era of web 2.0?!