Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

Summary: Ron Paul is supposedly the right-wing answer to Howard Dean - a come-from-nowhere candidate who is taking the Internet faster than fire consumes Southern California. Only, it appears, he's not.


Ron Paul is supposedly the right-wing answer to Howard Dean - a come-from-nowhere candidate who is taking the Internet faster than fire consumes Southern California. Only, it appears, he's not. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birgmingham have determined that pro-Paul spam sent after the Republican debate Sunday was generated by a botnet.

And that, Gary Warner, UAB's director of research in computer forensics, says makes it a blatantly "criminal act," in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. Wired quotes Warner:

"This is clearly a criminal act in support of a campaign, which has been committed with or without their knowledge. 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?"

The spam messages boasted subject lines like:
Ron Paul Wins GOP Debate!
Ron Paul Eliminates the IRS!
Ron Paul Stops Iraq War!
Vote Ron Paul 2008!
Iraq Scam Exposed, Ron Paul
Government Wasteful Spending Eliminated By Ron Paul

Unlike generic spam messages from campaigns, these emails were fraudulently generated, showing they were from a Silicon Valley company or a Paul supporter in Houston, but in fact were generated from Brazil, El Salvador, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, and Nigeria.

From the UAB press release:

We've seen many previous emails reported as spam from other campaigns or parties, but when we've investigated them, they all were sent from the legitimate parties.

In addition, CNBC recently took down a post-debate poll that showed Paul winning the debate at 75% levels. In a message on the CNBC website, political editor John Harwood managing editor Allen Wastler defended the decision to take down the poll:

The numbers grew ... 7,000-plus votes after a couple of hours ... and Ron Paul was at 75%.

Now Paul is a fine gentleman with some substantial backing and, by the way, was a dynamic presence throughout the debate , but I haven't seen him pull those kind of numbers in any "legit" poll. Our poll was either hacked or the target of a campaign. So we took the poll down.

The next day, our email basket was flooded with Ron Paul support messages. And the computer logs showed the poll had been hit with traffic from Ron Paul chat sites. I learned other Internet polls that night had been hit in similar fashion.

Given all this, it's an open question as to whether the campaign is involved in all this online ballot-stuffing. Warner says there's no reason to suspect the Paul campaign. And says Paul spokesman Jesse Benton:

"If it is true, it could be done by a well-intentioned yet misguided supporter or someone with bad intentions trying to embarrass the campaign. Either way, this is independent work, and we have no connection.

Topics: CXO, Browser, Collaboration, Security

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  • Correction

    The open letter you quoted from CNBC was not from John Harwood at all. It was from Allen Wastler, managing editor of (check the bottom of the letter). John Harwood wrote his own open letter, which disagreed with Wastler:

    Harwoods personal opinion is that Ron Paul will not win, but he makes it clear that he doesn't believe anything suspicious was going on with the online poll.

    In your hurry to post this, you have greatly misrepresented the facts.
  • What a ridiculous smear piece?

    Do you accuse the CEO of pfizer of running a massiver mysterious botnet because we all receive a million emails a day for Viagra? No it'd be ridiculous, just like you.
  • Terrible Reporting - Facts not checked, bias throughout

    This is an example of spam reporting.

    I don't mind admitting that I am supporter to the Paul campaign up front. I also can't believe how people do not take responsability for their blogs.

    This gentleman did not check any of these facts I assert. This gentleman did not compare this story to anything that is relevent: i.e. spam is a problem, and any supporter could be doing this on their own.

    There is a vailed attempt to smear a champion of freedom.

    Hillary Clinton's campaign or any of the major campaigns are far more suspicious than Paul's campaign.

    This is truly absurd. Terrible reporting sir.

    • Sheesh

      He does not say RP orchestrated this. He is just reporting on the zealous behavior of RP supporters that is getting out of hand. Ruining polls and spamming is not a good way to get the Paul heard.
  • Shhhh, whispers in the dark ssspspsssst

    What amazes me the most are so called IT security professionals willing to risk thier reputations on such thinly veiled false accusations. Internet, meet your new censors.

    Lies, disinformation, misinformation, negative campaigning, dirty politics. That's what makes Ron Paul unique, he doesn't need to stoop so low, neither do his 100,000 or so active supporters. Anyone familiar with his integrity knows this is really quite a load of bovine excretion. For shame. Experts for sale, get them now while their hot!
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    Is this another inside job? Ron support is REAL that is a FACT

    Univ. of Alabama Birmingham's Gary Warner (the researcher quoted in the story) has this interesting connection:
    Birmingham InfraGard

    (Non-Profit; 10,001 or more employees; Civic & Social Organization industry)

    September 2001 ??? Present (6 years 2 months)

    InfraGard is a public private partnership between the FBI and those who are in charge of protecting our Nation's Critical Infrastructures, be they in Government, Corporate America, or Academia. We have 16,000 members organized into 86 chapters. Gary is currently the President of the Birmingham chapter, and is the SouthEast Regional Coordinator, which is a communications-facilitation position between FBI HQ and the leadership of the 20 chapters in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and North and South Carolina.
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    This piece is pathetic. Here we have a great American presidential candidate that has spent 30 years fighting for YOUR civil liberties with an untarnished record to prove it and you're trying to pin some "botnet" rubbish from a third party spammer onto his campaign.

    Reporters like you are the scum of the Earth.
  • Welcome Richard to ZDNet...

    You are doing just fine.
    D T Schmitz
  • more trash for the neocon pile of crap

    Another "so-called" journalist reminding me where I shouldn't go to get fair and balanced news. Hint: NOT from ZDNet! Don't you guys get it? Tell lies and people will stop coming to your website.

    Just plain stupid reporting <shakes head>
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    lol already exposed as hit job on Ron Paul by some lowlifes, nice reporting dummy
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    Does anybody fact check this crap? Ron Paul has been a U.S. congressman since the 70's, ran for president on the libertarian ticket and hence could be considered well known. To call him a come from nowhere candidate belies your credulity and calls the rest of the article into question.

    "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." - -- Mahatma Gandhi
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    This article is a piece of garbage
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    The biggest issue here is that there is not a clear understanding of causality here. The article implies that Paul's support is mostly composed of underhanded means, such as hacking polls and sending spam emails to create the illusion of support, when what's really at hand is one isolated botnet. Now just because the botnet exists doesn't mean it created or fluffed up Ron Paul support. In fact, it's very likely that the spam only started going after Ron Paul had already become popular on the net, thus giving someone the idea of viably sending out Ron Paul spam. The way the article is written is terrible in the sense that they imply an awful lot of things for the little fact that they have. It's writing that's very skewed and doesn't address the issue of the which direction the causality points in this situation.
  • Perpetuating a misunderstanding of political ideologies

    I reply to the issue of spam email that uses Ron Paul's name in another thread.

    Here I address "Ron Paul is supposedly the right-wing answer to Howard Dean."

    The political dialog in this country (and others) is greatly hampered by the meaningless use of "right" or "left" that no longer serve as a valid distinction of viewpoint. As Pournelle notes, the left/right spectrum "originated in the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly during their revolution" but "within a year it was invalidated by events." Yet we still try to categorize politics with that thought model. I prefer to think about political positioning in terms of the Nolan chart, Pournelle chart, or Political Compass. BTW, Baen's observation of the antipathy between contiguous groups on the Pournelle chart is a good explanation for the opposition that Paul faces from some fellow Republicans.

    If politics is part of social sciences, then "As ideas are preserved and communicated by means of words, it necessarily follows that we cannot improve the language of a science without at the same time improving the science itself; neither can we, on the other hand, improve a science without improving the language or nomenclature that belongs to it." -- Antoine Lavoisier, "Traite Elementaire de Chimie", 1789 ("Elements of Chemistry", translation by Robert Kerr, 1790)

    For those who think 2 political dimensions is too complicated, I ask: don't some people enjoy "sweet and sour" sauce without calling it one or the other?
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    Considering that "RON PAUL" is one of the top search
    terms on the net, isn't is just as plausible that some
    spam operation has chosen to hide their viagra ads
    under Paul's name in order to sneak their little blue pills
    past the filters?
  • Wired Magazine Clarification

    Wired Magazine - "This article has been modified to clarify that Warner has seen no evidence suggesting that the Paul campaign is responsible for the spam."

    'Criminal' Botnet Stumps for Ron Paul, Researchers Allege
    • And the headline?

      The headline should be changed as well as it is misleading
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    I think your article's headline is a little sensational and rides just over the border of yellow journalism. I might as well ask if Viagra is sending me all the other spam in my inbox, or those ridiculous penny stock scams. Ron Paul only *barely* knows that the Internet is not a series of tubes. He even said "The YouTubes" in an interview once. So, if a handful of his supporters decide to get illegal in their method of spreading his message, they should be the subject of the article, not him. I work at a big University, and we help protect our 6,500+ resident students from botnets and spam about everything from lipitor to lithium mines. There are all kinds of motivations for sending spam and the like. If anything, this just shows that Ron Paul is becoming a cultural as well as a political phenomenon. Also, you are welcome to check my IP address. It's from the University of Minnesota. Respectfully, -- Alex
  • RE: Is Ron Paul running a botnet spam op?

    How can you run a story with a headline that all but calls Ron Paul and spammer with no proof what so ever that he had anything to do with the act. Are you a reporter?
  • Warner says he doesn't think Paul campaign involved in botnet spam

    Gary Warner, UAB Director of Research in Computer Forensics, says in his personal blog: "How many people do I think were behind the Ron Paul spam? One. And not one that is officially recognized in any capacity by the Ron Paul campaign."

    And I note that Mr. Koman saw fit to correct the fact that it was Allen Wastler from CNBC that accused Paul's supporter's of hacking the CNBC poll, not John Harwood.

    But Mr. Koman fails to note that Harwood himself did clearly say: "I do not believe our poll was 'hacked.' [...] I have no reason to believe anything corrupt occurred with respect to our poll."