Technology Insights into Vaccine SPAM and Bad Actors

-James O'Malley, CIO & Co-founder, Altamente

My day to day job is running communications and web infrastructure for a wide variety of clients – email, web, messaging. This means that I am privy to the attacks that happen, the attempts to sell pharmaceuticals, scam you out of bitcoin, steal money, phish identities – you name it, I’ve seen it for going on 25 years now. I can see when the themes repeat, the rise and fall of trends in a form of waves of activity.  It is against this back drop that I affirm that currently, there is a concerted effort to undermine people’s faith in government, public health, and society. I will share one example here in image form, because I do not want to give it any visibility to search engines.

This time around the themes are consistent with a messaging campaign that focuses on vaccines and promotes distrust in the medical community and government. I include below an excerpt of the body of a website comment form spam

 

The rest of the body contains various links to a google drive account with hundreds of meme-ready images to share on social media professing to the myth that the Covid-19 vaccines somehow shed live viruses to other people, something called "vaccine shedding." If you want a quick history of this and to see if there is any truth at all, read the wikipedia article.

In short, there are no modern live virus vaccines in use. "Virus shedding" is not a current concern. The disinformation campaign is using references to the oral version of the polio vaccine in the 1950s.

It takes time and effort to create any campaign, let alone program it. So one might ask, why are they posting this stuff? Why work so hard to hunt down and post contact form, email, website spam? Why would someone anyone do this?

The technology and human connection

It is looking at the systematic effort behind the scenes that these are not concerned citizens “trying to get the word out.” These people, organizations, state actors are paid to spread this misinformation. Based on the webserver logs, I show that between 50% and 85% of all traffic to websites that I host and maintain is coming from China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belarus. There is no content I host that would interest any individuals in those places. The only interesting bit to them is that these sites are hosted using WordPress, the single most popular content management software in the world. It’s popular and predictable, so it draws in bad actors trying to foment discord and steal money.

This the reason that captchas exist. The are a mitigation technique that attempt to weed out automated spam posts. Sometimes, however, it’s just people being paid to post stuff. And someone is getting paid to do this.

If you are disposed to believe these sorts of posts, please understand that these people are not your friends. Serendipity did not bring them to meet you. They are not aligned with you politically or spiritually. They are manipulating you for nefarious ends. They are attempting to undermine your faith in the rule of law, public health, science. What they gain is a divided country, hobbled both politically and economically.