Ron Paul Botnet Spam Scam Uncovered
If Texas congressman Ron Paul is elected president in 2008, he may be the first leader of the free world put into power with the help of a global network of hacked PCs spewing spam, according to computer-security researchers who’ve analyzed a recent flurry of e-mail supporting the long-shot Republican candidate. “This is clearly a criminal act in support of a campaign, which has been committed with or without their knowledge,” says Gary Warner, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s director of research in computer forensics. “The question is, will we see more and more of this, or will this bring shame to the campaigns and will they make clear that this is not a form of acceptable behavior by their supporters?” Warner pointed to provisions of the federal Can-Spam Act.
Ron Paul spokesman Jesse Benton says the campaign has no knowledge of the scam. Warner himself says that he has no reason to believe that the Paul campaign had anything to do with these messages.
Some participants in the online political world have long suspected Paul’s technically sophisticated fan base of manipulating online tools and polls to boost the appearance of a wide base of support. But the UAB analysis is the first to document any internet shenanigans.
The finding is significant, because Paul’s online support — as gauged by blog mentions, friends on social-networking sites such as MySpace and popularity in online polls — has garnered him wide mainstream print and television coverage, despite his relatively poor performance in offline polling.
The spamming allegations are based on a slew of e-mails captured by contributors to the university’s Spam Data Mining for Law Enforcement Applications project, a research venture that receives 2.5 million spam messages a day, and selects about 100,000 a week for analysis. The project receives its spam from other researchers with ties to ISPs, and in some cases from “trap” addresses that have never been used for any other purpose.
Certainly, there has long been suspicion that the flurry of comments that generally follows postings about Ron Paul on blogs are somehow auto-generated. Whether this buttresses that theory is beyond my technical understanding.
Spamming and various other nefarious uses of the Internet’s capabilities to promote business ventures, raise website search ratings, and other purposes have been around approximately as long as the Internet itself. It stands to reason, then, that these techniques would be applied to political campaigning.
While this effort seems to be done to help Paul, similar efforts could just as easily be launched to harm other candidates. We saw in the last campaign cycle a flurry of robo-calls apparently from one campaign that were actually perpetrated by its opponents in order to alienate voters.