San­ders’ litany of prom­ises sounds like scam to Google

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Bernard San­ders’ eco­nomic plan trig­gered Gmail’s “phish­ing scam” an­tenna, with the mail sys­tem say­ing the se­na­tor’s lib­eral cam­paign prom­ises — in­clud­ing lower prescription drug prices and free col­lege for all — sound like frauds.

“Be care­ful with this mes­sage. It con­tains con­tent that’s typ­i­cally used to steal per­sonal in­for­ma­tion,” Gmail said in a bright red warn­ing box that ap­peared at the top of a mes­sage sent by Mr. San­ders’ cam­paign Fri­day, lay­ing out his “Agenda for Work­ing Fam­i­lies.”

“This mes­sage could be a scam,” Gmail says in its page ex­plain­ing why it flagged the mes­sage as a “phish­ing scam.” Phish­ing is a spe­cific type of spam email that scam­mers use to try to en­tice users to dis­close bank ac­counts or other sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion.

The San­ders cam­paign de­clined to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle, but a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Google, the In­ter­net gi­ant that runs Gmail, said the com­pany thinks it has fig­ured out the prob­lem.

“A re­gres­sion in the spam fil­ter’s ma­chine learn­ing frame­work was de­ter­mined to be the root cause. The is­sue af­fected only a very small per­cent­age of the over­all email re­ceived by Gmail and it has now been re­solved,” the rep­re­sen­ta­tive said.

Ac­cord­ing to Gmail, mes­sages are au­to­mat­i­cally an­a­lyzed based on the sender and the con­tent of the mes­sage. In this case, the San­ders press release was sent by Michael Briggs, a cam­paign spokesman, and sim­i­lar mes­sages weren’t marked as spam or phish­ing, so it’s prob­a­bly that Mr. San­ders’ word­ing caused his mes­sage to be la­beled a scam.

The of­fend­ing email com­plains that Amer­ica’s econ­omy is fail­ing, stiff­ing work­ing fam­i­lies while re­ward­ing bil­lion­aires.

“My plan would make Wall Street banks, prof­itable cor­po­ra­tions, mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires pay their fair share of taxes. My plan would pro­vide liv­ing wages for work­ing peo­ple and en­sure equal pay for women,” Mr. San­ders says, tick­ing off his plans to raise taxes by $1 tril­lion and spend it on in­fra­struc­ture, guar­an­tee free tu­ition at pub­lic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, raise the min­i­mum wage, raise So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits and cut prices on prescription drugs.

Ira Win­kler, pres­i­dent of Se­cure Men­tem and a cybersecurity spe­cial­ist, said the cam­paign likely trig­gered Gmail’s fil­ters be­cause it in­cluded phrases that spam­mers use to try to sell prescription drugs and by offering things free of charge — in this case, the prom­ise to pay for ed­u­ca­tion at pub­lic col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties.

“The way spam fil­ters tend to work is you’ve got scor­ing. And the more time trig­ger words are used, scor­ing tends to go up. So if you see words like ‘free,’ if you see words like ‘prescription drugs,’ that keeps trig­ger­ing it,” Mr. Win­kler said.

“When you put out a cam­paign mes­sage filled with fluff it’s not un­ex­pected,” he said.

He said one so­lu­tion for busi­nesses is to sign up with a trusted bulk email­ing com­pany, which works with ser­vices such as Gmail to make sure they know the mes­sages are le­git­i­mate — a prac­tice known as “whitelist­ing.”

Mr. Win­kler said spam la­bels could hap­pen to any politi­cian email­ing prom­ises to vot­ers and us­ing red-flag words.

“If you use the word guar­an­tee, that’s an­other flag,” he said.

It was un­clear why Mr. San­ders’ mes­sage was deemed phish­ing rather than reg­u­lar spam. Phish­ing mes­sages usu­ally in­clude links scam­mers use to col­lect sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

Mr. San­ders’ mes­sage did not ap­pear to have any such links.

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