According to Sarah Lai Stirland of Wired.com, presidential hopeful Ron Paul may be using a network of zombie bot computers to aid his cause via spamming techniques.
“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”.
I have certainly seen evidence of Ron Paul support via comments on some of my own blogs. Whether this is computer generated, or part of a deliberate campaign I have no idea, though the relevance of the comments to the posts in question was actually good – whoever left the comments would at least appear to have read the post.
Whilst it has long been suspected that the Ron Paul campaign may be using underhand tactics, it should be noted that on the internet anyone can appear to be whomever they like. It is just as possible that a competitor could employ spamming techniques to discredit an opponent, by alienating their potential voters.
Utilising spam and other ‘black hat’ techniques to manipulate search results in order to promote web sites and generate awareness of certain causes has been evident since the conception of the world wide web and will likely not go away soon either. That such strategies should now be applied to politics, by whomever and for whatever purpose, should really be no surprise. In fact, the question should probably be why no-one has thought of this before!
What do you think? Is Ron Paul a spamming scammer, or is a competitor playing a dirty tricks campaign?
Do you even care?