Spam the Vote


Obama wins. But so does Palin.


The election, of course, is a month away. And, just as certainly, both Barack and Palin can't win. Where they both come out on top is in a Secure Computing study, reported upon at a Globe and Mail blog, that showed Obama was the subject of 84.4 percent of e-mail spam versus 12.6 percent for John McCain. After Thursday's vice presidential debate, Palin was mentioned in more spam than Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden by a narrower 1.9 to 1.1 ratio. Secure Computing listed some of the common subject lines. (The best: "Obama Ahead Amongst Voters With Similarly Weird Names.")


SonicWALL has some impressively huge totals for election-related spam. The security company defines political spam as messages that use political subject lines but otherwise have nothing to do with politics or advocacy messages. It says that 5 billion political spam will be sent to registered voters from early October through the election. During the 90 days prior to the press release -- roughly back to mid June -- political spam has increased about 20 percent. The projected 5 billion total, which a company executive said might be a conservative estimate, is far more than the estimated 1.25 billion sent during the 2004 presidential election cycle.


Things will get worse before they get better. SC Magazine posted a story about one such spam, which was uncovered by the Websense Security Labs ThreatSeeker Network. The subject line indicates that it contains video of Obama in compromising positions. If opened, 14 seconds of a pornographic video is shown. While this is going on, a Trojan is downloading into the machine. It is programmed to collect information when the user goes to a bank Web site or PayPal. Websense says that spam/Trojan is being seen in low volumes and may be in the test phase for more extensive use.


The goal, of course, is to use any notable event to try to trick and coax more people into opening their messages. Spammers -- perhaps somewhat emboldened by an unexpected win last month in Virginia -- clearly are on the prowl as Election Day nears. Twitter, and certainly other social-networking sites, are not immune. This post talks about two twetters -- the writer thinks they are bots -- that were posting just about every minute. The messages tend to be racist.


Political spam, like any other type, is a severe nuisance. IT departments should alert workers to the dangers and remind them to be careful with any political e-mail, especially those with attachments. Then they should tell them to remember to vote.