Oliveira, Lin, Rocha, Ellis, Dommaraju, Yang, Weir, Marin, Ebner (2019) Empirical Analysis of Weapons of Influence, Life Domains, and Demographic-Targeting in Modern Spam - An Age-Comparative Perspective Crime science 8()


Spam has been increasingly used for malware distribution. This paper analyzed modern spam from an age-comparative perspective to (i) discover the extent to which psychological weapons of influence and life domains were represented in today's spam emails and (ii) clarify variations in the use of these weapons and life domains by user demographics. Thirty five young and 32 older participants forwarded 18,605 emails from their spam folder to our study email account. A random set of 961 emails were submitted to qualitative content coding and quantitative statistical analysis. Reciprocation was the most prevalent weapon; financial, leisure, and independence the most prevalent life domains. Older adults received health and independence-related spam emails more frequently, while young adults received leisure and occupation-related spam emails more often. These age differences show a level of targeting by user demographics in current spam campaigns. This targeting shows the need for age-tailored demographic warnings highlighting the presence of influence and pretexting (life domains) for suspicious emails for improved response to cyber-attacks that could result from spam distribution. The insights from this study and the produced labeled dataset of spam messages can inform the development of the next generation of such solutions, especially those based on machine learning.