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The Big July Celebrity Spam Study

Recently, we had the pleasure of studying 5.9 million spam mails sent in July 2011 in the effort to understand which celebrites were the most commonly used as bait by spammers. Using celebrities as bait in spam mails is of course not a new method. In fact, the much covered Anna Kournikova virus spread through spam celebrated a ten years anniversary earlier this year.

Unfortunately, this is a popular tactic for spammers as it seems to be working and the list (below) from our data suggests that spammers not only tend to focus on celebrities that are currently hot in the media but that there are a few usual suspects that are used more frequently. Typically, the celebrity spam mails contain links to malicious sites or sites selling viagra.  Claims of “unseen videos” of the celebrity are also very popular among spammers.  Here are the results of our findings…

Top celebrities used in spam mails in July, 2011:

1. Amy Winehouse
2. Jay Leno
3. Britney Spears

4. Lady Gaga
5. Barack Obama
6. Justin Bieber
7. Cameron Diaz
8. Paris Hilton
9. Charlie Sheen

The tragic and much too early death of Amy Winehouse put her at the top of the list. We covered the Amy Winehouse Facebook scams surrounding her death and it’s not much of a surprise that she was also the topic of a large amount of spam mails. Jay Leno taking 2nd is unexpected and certainly not a joke. We saw a major outbreak of spam mails claiming that “Jay Leno is taking drugs”.  Here is an example:

Although the outburst of Jay Leno spam mails in mid-July have stopped since then, in what was likely a coordinated strategy, spammers created entries in Yahoo Groups to bait those recipients who turned to the search engines for confirmation on the stories. Alternatively, it might be other nasty scammers piggybacking on the spammers’ efforts as well. Nevertheless, be very careful when googling celebrities or anything else you find strange in a spam mails without protection from anti spyware software.

Here is a screenshot of a Yahoo Group related to “Jay Leno is taking drugs” with malicious links.

The others on the list are more or less the aforementioned usual suspects.  We found it a bit surprising that Charlie Sheen was still on the list. We had previously written about the Charlie Sheen Spam mail nearly half a year ago.  Popular culture icons Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Paris Hilton and Cameron Diaz continue to make their rounds while Justin Bieber trails Barrack Obama by a single spot.

Did you receive any celebrity scam mails this past month?  Is there anybody missing from our list that we should know about?  Let us know in the comments!

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About Kim Falkner

Blogger with a passion for IT-security, online marketing and blogging. Follow me on Google+ (+Kim Falkner) or LinkedIn (Kim Falkner on LinkedIn)
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