Twitter Spam Bots Target NFL and Miley Cyrus Fans

This week, fans of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have been tweeting in anticipation of Super Bowl XLVIII, but many have been subjected to a torrent of spam from Twitter bots. Fans of pop star Miley Cyrus have also been plagued with an identical spam campaign using targeted keywords.

Last summer, we published a blog about a similar campaign that focused on the BET Awards and fans of Justin Bieber, One Direction, and Rihanna. The latest campaign follows the same blueprint with improvements.

The scam starts with Twitter users tweeting specific keywords which are monitored by spam bots on the service. The keywords could be about the Super Bowl, the Broncos, Seahawks, or individual players on the team, such as Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning or Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. In the case of Miley Cyrus, mentions of her full name or her first name alone may receive a response from spam bots.

The response is a tweet with an attached photo that shows the targeted users’ Twitter handle in an effort to personalize the message.

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Figure 1. Twitter spam bot replies using photo attachments that claim to offer prizes related to the NFL or Miley Cyrus

These spam bots do not tweet links or include links in their Twitter profiles’ biography section. Instead, they rely on users to manually type the URL found in the picture that was tweeted to them. This is an adaptive measure to ensure that antispam filters do not flag their accounts.

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Figure 2. Scam websites ask users to verify Twitter usernames

Both of the sites that were mentioned in the photos follow the same template. The sites first request a user’s Twitter username, claiming that they need to check the username to confirm eligibility. After that, the site requests the user’s personal information, such as their full name, home and email address. and phone number.

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Figure 3. Users asked to participate in a survey and download mobile apps

Before a user can proceed, the supposed sponsors claim that the user needs to complete a “special offer” in order to have a chance to win the prize. Typically, this leads to a survey, but since this scam is mobile-based, users are asked to install a mobile application, earning the scam operators money for each successful installation through affiliate programs. This incentivizes the scammers to aggressively spam users.

The rise in popularity of social networking services over the last few years has encouraged spammers and scammers to target these large pools of users discussing major events and public figures, similar to how marketers do. The question is, which event or public figure will be targeted next?