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Greatest Hits (and Flops) of the Steve Jobs Link Spammer


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Yesterday, Sophos posted a thorough analysis of a link-spam campaign circulating through Facebook. The link campaign, which (beginning early on May 6) used news of the death of computing icon Steve Jobs as a social engineering hook, led 25,669 people into a vortex of marketing survey junk.

Many people know that Bitly, the link-shortening service, generates random-looking six- or seven-character codes that, slapped after one of Bitly’s domains, redirects a link-clicker’s browser to a much longer URL. Fewer people know that Bitly permits everyone to view statistics about shortlinks (check out the full details available just about the Jobs link), and registered users can “customize” shortened links into any combination of letters and/or numbers that hasn’t been claimed by someone else.

That’s just what the link spammer — a registered Bitly user, probably using one of several accounts — has been doing. His Facebook spam campaign used the customized shortlink of restinpeace-steve-jobs to lead people into spamvertisements. And, in the process, he left behind a thorough history of previous spammed-link campaigns. Bitly also permits anyone to peruse the history of any registered user’s links.

So I did.

I can appreciate the link highlighted near the bottom. Zombie yourself, indeed. This particular spammer account’s history goes back to March 26, 2011, with a rich bounty of information to data-mine.

As of yesterday, until it had been reported as a probable spam link and Bitly shut down the redirect, the restinpeace-steve-jobs spam campaign netted the spammer more than 25,000 clicks. The links, as Graham Cluley mentioned in his post, point to the domain — a site with a less-than-stellar reputation in some quarters.

But it would be a mistake to assume this is the spammer’s best work. In fact, the same user has done much better, but his hits seem to be fairly sporadic, and many of his misses utterly incongruous. I decided to drill down into the spammer’s archive to see which campaigns were worked best, and which flubbed miserably.

Best In Show

The link spammer’s most successful recent campaign used the customized shortlink subway_legalizemarijuana — a campaign orchestrated on behalf of a domain named Yeah, that doesn’t sound fishy at all. One wonders at the bizarre wisdom behind the nomenclature. Did he implore the sandwich company to add it to the list of ingredients? Was it a grassroots campaign to convince some public transit agency to permit drug use on the premises? It hit the Web on July 8, and is still going moderately strong with nearly 73,000 clicks.

First Runner Up

Back in April, the spammer propagated a link using the customized text Lesbian_Dating — who could have guessed that a campaign touting Online dating for passionate Sapphic girls would net the spammer more than 36,000 clicks? Not many of the clicks were likely to have originated from passionate Sapphic girls, mind you, but none of these spammers care why the clicker clicked, just that they do.

Honorable Mention

In May, the spammer began pushing out links to using the shortlink X_Box — it’s not hard to see why this might be a popular campaign, and it net the spammer more than 34,000 clicks.

Wii for What, Now?

Interestingly enough, the wii_for_legalization version of this same contrivance only garnered a touch over 13,000 clicks. What does that say about the propensity of fans of certain consoles to a common set of opinions on marijuana legalization? Maybe the Wii’s younger target audience is not yet hip to the older-kids’ regrettable trend combining gaming and drug abuse?

You Went There? Seriously?

One of the spammer’s less effective campaigns was the 9-11-tenyear shortlink. Only a measly 6678 people clicked that link between the 8th and 12th of last month.

Most Failtastic. Campaign. Ever.

But the most hilariously failsome campaign is this ill-conceived turn of phrase: jobs-for-lesbians. At a mere 25 pageviews, it represents as near to an epic fail as you can get in the spam business, and another bit of evidence that something is just broken in the spammer’s mind.

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