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Symantec Intelligence

Spam Campaigns Take to Tumblr

Created: 16 May 2013
Ben Nahorney's picture
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As the urban legend goes, the bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he is attributed as saying. While Sutton has long since distanced himself from the statement, the concept resonates with many people, to the extent that it’s been used to describe principles in accounting and even medicine.  

This principle also holds true in the world of Internet security. In the latest version of the Internet Security Threat Report we discussed the major trends in the spam world, where the percent of spam email continues to decline while more and more social networks are being targeted. Given the growth of social networking in recent years as a means to communicate, this comes as no surprise—it’s where the users are.

We’ve previously talked about how scammers are not only going after users on the most well-known social networks, as they have for years, but have begun targeting users on other networks, such as Instagram and Pinterest. Another popular social network has found itself in the crosshairs of spammers recently. The growth in popularity of Tumblr, particularly with younger Internet users, has also drawn the attention of spammers.

We’ve come across a spam campaign that is utilizing a feature on Tumblr similar to the type of commenting you might see on blogs or other social networks. Tumblr calls this feature “Ask,” where your followers can ask you questions, which can appear on your Tumblr blog. The feature is disabled by default, but you can enable it in your account settings and even allow anonymous comments. Spammers are attempting to take advantage of this feature to peddle their wares.

“WOW, I just lost a bunch of weight using the OFFICIAL TUMBLR DIET!! Are u using it as well? Check it out at [REMOVED][d0t]com”

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Figure 1. Spam message utilizing Tumblr's Ask feature

Clearly, there’s no such thing as an official Tumblr diet. Instead, the URL provided in the spam message leads to a website that mimics a popular health magazine, espousing the benefits of a new diet pill.

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Figure 2. Fake health magazine site promoting diet pill

The page is full of information about a “miracle pill,” along with testimonials and offers linking to sites where the user can get some. If the user clicks through, they are brought to an order page. However, the site appears to have a limited supply. Stock is set to run out, coincidentally, the same day the user is visiting the page.

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Figure 3. Diet pill order page

The user is asked for a number of personal details, such as name, address, phone number, and email. The site will eventually ask for your credit card details as well.

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Figure 4. Diet pill payment page

We don’t know for sure if the site will actually send you genuine diet pills that contain the supposed miracle ingredient, fake pills claiming to have it, or if the site will just make off with your credit card details. Regardless, we do not recommend attempting to purchase goods through offers like this.

This spamming technique is not limited to diet pills either. Other scams, such as the one below, attempt to play at a user’s desire to make money. In this case they don’t even bother to ask a question—skirting the primary purpose of Tumblr’s Ask feature altogether.

"I made $300 yesterday by Internet marketing and I'm looking at at least $450 today. So yeah. You need to do this. I found out about it from this news article on CBS. I'm just excited to share this with you because it actually freakin works! Tumblr won't let me post a link but if you want to read up and start making some money then head over to [REMOVED] [d0t] cоm - Spread this to fellow tumblree's and tumblrette's and lets get out of this recession together!"

The link in this case leads to a fake news page espousing a great way to make money from home, then to a page that asks for the same personal details as the scam above. In this case, besides gather personal details, it’s possible that the scammers here could be looking for cybermules—another precarious scam that is best avoided.

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Figure 5. Page promoting "make money from home" scheme

What’s disconcerting about this scam is that Ask questions do not appear on Tumblr blogs by default, as traditional comments can. Instead, a user has to make the effort to answer the Ask, at which point both the question and the answer will appear on their Tumblr blog. Granted many users are answering these Asks sarcastically, while others do so with annoyance, seeing it as the spam it is. While we don’t suggest doing this, what’s perhaps most worrying is that some users actually go as far as to thank the Anonymous poster for the information, seemingly falling for the ruse. Regardless of how the user responds, the messages remain online, and anyone perusing these Tumblr blogs could feasibly visit the sites mentioned on their own accord.

It’s difficult to determine the number of Asks these spammers are sending out, but we have encountered hundreds of instances when looking into the issue. Since Anonymous Asks do not require a Tumblr account to submit, and determining if a Tumblr blog has the feature enabled is easily scriptable, spammers could easily send large volumes.

To its credit, Tumblr has implemented an Ignore feature, where you can block the account, IP, and/or computer sending them. Overall, this spam should be treated in just the same way as any other Ask or comment-related spam: do not answer such submissions, do not visit the URLs provided, and do not give any personal details to less-than reputable websites.

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