Threat Management

Trump beats Clinton in presidential election spam race


Donald Trump is the clear winner among spammers and cyber-criminals, according to a study by Proofpoint.

Its researchers undertook an analysis of election-themed emails - everything from straightforward text-based spam with embedded links to credential phishing. It found that from its sample of spam email, content was skewed heavily towards lures featuring Donald Trump with the Republican nominee appearing in nearly 169 times as many messages as those featuring his Democratic opponent.

Researchers scanned subject lines in spam messages detected across its customer base in June and July for occurrences of "Clinton" or "Trump" and observed a disproportionate number featuring only "Trump." Overall, Trump appeared over 270 times more often in June than Clinton alone and 34 times as often as either Clinton or both candidates. 

Proofpoint said the trend was also noticeable the following month, though in a slightly less lopsided fashion. Trump-themed lures appeared just 67 times more often than Clinton-themed lures in July.

It is unclear why spammers go for Trump rather than Clinton, but his ability to generate headlines may have a bearing on things. Messages tended to fall into two categories: "surprising election news" about Trump, or emails promising to help recipients "get rich" or "get smart" like Trump.

These sometimes included subtitles such as "Wall Street is outraged" and similar messages with fake sending aliases that appeared to come from consumer finance publications like “CNN Money”.

According to Patrick Wheeler, director of threat intelligence at Proofpoint, the election is a contentious one “so we expected high volumes of election-related spam as threat actors capitalise on public attention. What we didn't expect was the very lopsided use of lures related to a single candidate."

“Whether these trends will shift as we get closer to the November election remains to be seen. Regardless of the specific subjects and lures spam actors use, individuals and organisations need to exercise particular caution in opening and interacting with election-related mail they receive.

“Many of these messages are merely annoying. But others can be malicious, relying on our curiosity about the elections to lead us to phishing pages, compromised websites, and more,” added Wheeler.

Jonathan Sander, VP of product strategy at Lieberman Software, told that the reason so much spam about the US election invokes Trump rather than Clinton is because bad guys want you to click.

“Love him or hate him, Trump always gets people's attention. So I'm betting the spammers are banking on people clicking the Trump subject lines more and ending up with the malware flowing in,” he said.

Meanwhile, data scientist David Robinson has analysed Donald Trump's Twitter timeline to work out if he's writing all of his own tweets. Trump uses the handle @realDonaldTrump but it would appear that about half of his tweets come from his staff. 

Trump is known to use an Android device but half the tweets are coming from an iPhone. The tone of the iPhone tweets is also significantly more diplomatic and appears to be more social media savvy, using hashtags, links, pictures and the quote tweet function. The Android-originated messages tend to contain sharp criticisms of his rivals and critics and make little use of the extra Twitter functions. 

Tweets originating from iPhone tend to be written in grammatically complete sentences while the Android-originated Tweets have far more incomplete sentences. Android tweets were more likely to contain emotionally charged words like "badly", "crazy", "dumb" and "dead". Interestingly, "Brexit" featured number 12 in list of most commonly used words from the Android phone. 

In terms of sentiment, the tweets from Trump's personal Android phone tended to be angrier and more negative, Robinson said. 

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