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Revealing social networks of spammers through spectral clustering

Kevin S. Xu, Mark Kliger, Yilun Chen, Peter J. Woolf, and Alfred O. Hero III


To date, most studies on spam have focused only on the spamming phase of the spam cycle and have ignored the harvesting phase, which consists of the mass acquisition of email addresses. It has been observed that spammers conceal their identity to a lesser degree in the harvesting phase, so it may be possible to gain new insights into spammers’ behavior by studying the behavior of harvesters, which are individuals or bots that collect email addresses. In this paper, we reveal social networks of spammers by identifying communities of harvesters with high behavioral similarity using spectral clustering. The data analyzed was collected through Project Honey Pot, a distributed system for monitoring harvesting and spamming. Our main findings are (1) that most spammers either send only phishing emails or no phishing emails at all, (2) that most communities of spammers also send only phishing emails or no phishing emails at all, and (3) that several groups of spammers within communities exhibit coherent temporal behavior and have similar IP addresses. Our findings reveal some previously unknown behavior of spammers and suggest that there is indeed social structure between spammers to be discovered.


K. S. Xu, M. Kliger, Y. Chen, P. J. Woolf, A. O. Hero III, “Revealing social networks of spammers through spectral clustering,” in Proc. IEEE Int. Conf. Communications, 2009. (.pdf)


Presentation slides (.pdf)

Code and Data

To request access to the code and data used in the paper, please contact Kevin Xu at the address below.