Election-themed spam spikes as U.S. presidential race comes to an end

At least it’s bipartisan…

David bisson
David Bisson

Election-themed spam spikes as U.S. presidential election closes in

Election-themed spam has picked up considerably as the United States’ 2016 presidential election enters the home stretch.

Proofpoint researchers have been scanning spam messages for mentions of “trump” and “clinton” since June 2016.

In that span of time, they’ve noticed several trends.

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First, Donald Trump has absolutely dominated all election-related spam.

Proofpoint’s researchers explain:

“In June in particular, two very large Trump-themed campaigns resulted in Trump appearing alone in over 94% of total election-related spam. That percentage increased to 96% in July.”

When compared to his opponent, mentions of only the Republican presidential candidate outnumbered instances of just “Hillary Clinton” 45 to 1 in July. Since then, it’s never faltered below a ratio of 9:1.

Election 1
Source: Proofpoint

Those findings aren’t all that surprising. Whatever you might think of Trump, he’s certainly one to make for a good headline. Sometimes that’s all spammers need to lure in curious or unsuspecting users.

Just look at what he’s said about the digital security space alone. Back in June, the Donald disagreed with respected voices in the security community and accused the Democratic National Committee of hacking itself as a way to “distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader. Too bad the DNC doesn’t hack Crooked Hillary’s 33,000 missing emails.”

Speaking of emails, we can’t forget that one time when Trump basically encouraged Russian hackers to release Clinton’s missing emails. Or when he generalized all hackers to be 400 pounds. Or when he weighed in on how “the cyber is becoming so big today.”

Donald Trump says "the cyber" is so big now | Graham Cluley

You get the picture.

That’s not to say Hillary Clinton has gotten off scot-free with the spammers. Spam messages that mention her alone or both candidates now account for almost 17 percent of all election-themed spam, as opposed to a low of less than four percent back in July.

The reason? Proofpoint’s researchers feel notable events in the campaign like the presidential debates had something to do with it:

“We also observed potential trends based on major events in the campaign over the last month. For example, the first presidential debate was followed by five days of steadily increasing volumes for both Clinton- and Trump-themed emails. While it is impossible to directly link events such as debates to changes in spam volume, there does appear to be significant correlation between spikes in spam and specific events that increase voter interest and attention. It follows that increased voter interest creates additional opportunities for spammers to capitalize on the human factor and recipients’ willingness to open emails related to the election.”

Election 4
Source: Proofpoint

Overall, the spam itself has taken on many forms. Some promote work-from-home scams and suspicious health supplements, while others link to spammy election-themed content.

But there’s good news. On 8 November, Americans will elect their new president, which means all of this election spam is about to end. In the very least, the spam will lose some of their relevance.

That’s comforting… almost as much as the fact that the presidential race is nearly over.

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Tripwire's "The State of Security" blog.

One comment on “Election-themed spam spikes as U.S. presidential race comes to an end”

  1. John

    "almost as much as the fact that the presidential race is nearly over."

    You mean that the race to find the wildest Cowboy or best lier is nearly over?

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