With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, conspiracy theorists are bombarding social networks and e-mail inboxes with promises to reveal “the truth” about the tragedy. “The truth” is, though, that they’re capitalizing on the sorrow of the commemoration to try to trigger a spam snowball.
And the conspiracy spammers hope to promote more than just poor spelling and Caps Lock abuse. They seek to inform the average computer user how they, too, can spam the world in the hopes of sowing confusion, apprehension and general clutter.
To be sure, many current e-threats related to 9/11 present a more immediate danger to computer users – disposable web sites about 9/11 laced with viruses, charity fraud and more. Some of the threats are outlined here. But the spam snowball does appear to be rolling.
A few weeks ago, I saw a message buzzing social networking sites protesting that first-responders weren’t invited to the 10th anniversary ceremony. This made quite a commotion, and persuaded me to look further into the matter.
What I found was troublesome, and indicated the current wave of conspiracy spam may have its roots partially in previous 9/11 spam.
Randomly propagated e-mails couple of years ago taught people to use free or low-priced applications and e-mail address lists to wage bulk email campaigns. They advised readers to open an internet account with a bulk e-mail friendly ISP and start spreading the “truth” about the 9/11 attacks, hitting as many as a million e-mail addresses with each e-mail.
“Hijacked airliners flew all around the eastern U.S. for hours
without any military response???,” reads one such spam e-mail. “How could Osama bin-Forgotten make
our air force stand down, or did Cheney do that???.”
Many of these conspiracy theorists are asking users to voluntarily become “zombies” and allow their computers to be used as part of a botnet. Such illicit networks of computers are generally used by scammers to launch assaults and viruses but a botnet set up by these people would specialize in conspiracy spam.
This “spamtivism” campaign hopes to capitalize on the sorrow of the occasion to spread a chaotic message. The approach is strikingly similar to the way Anonymous – the hacktivist group – collected computing power for distributed Denial of Service attacks against financial institutions following the WikiLeaks scandal.