Whats up with the Spam bots?

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Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Mon Jan 09, 2012 7:21 am

There sure are a lot of 1st posts that dont make a lick of sense in many threads this morning. Are they Spam bots or what?
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Mon Jan 09, 2012 8:04 am

Magic 8-Ball says "Signs point to yes."

We're keeping an eye on it.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:09 am

Selling nike shoes. BUY BUY BUY. These are high quality...

HEY! Stop dissing my first posts... :P

Well actually I do agree. A lot of spam bots do seem to get past the "are you a real person" tests on this site.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:26 am

yogibbear wrote:Selling nike shoes. BUY BUY BUY. These are high quality...

HEY! Stop dissing my first posts... :P

Well actually I do agree. A lot of spam bots do seem to get past the "are you a real person" tests on this site.

A lot of spam bots aren't spam bots.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 7:03 am

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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:31 am

Pagey wrote:Apparently it's actually a career!

http://krebsonsecurity.com/2012/01/virt ... not-tests/

That was interesting.

I'm curious how many hits a spam ad gets on a tech savvy site like this. I'd be shocked if it was more than zero.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 9:01 am

RickyTick wrote:I'm curious how many hits a spam ad gets on a tech savvy site like this. I'd be shocked if it was more than zero.

Yeah, but I'm sure they get a hit now and then from people on less tech savvy sites. At a cost (per the linked article) of only $0.001 per CAPTCHA cracked the spammers don't need a high success rate.

It's pretty clear that this renders traditional CAPTCHAs useless though. It seems to me that what is necessary is to have something requiring enough effort on the part of the person signing up that even someone in a third-world country where people make $3 a day isn't willing to go to the trouble to make $0.001; yet it has to be simple enough (i.e. takes less than a minute or so) that it doesn't act as a serious deterrent to legitimate users signing up.

I wonder if something based on the content of the site, e.g. "What is the 7th word of the 3rd paragraph on page 2 of our Radeon HD 7970 review?" would be workable. It seems to me questions like this could be randomly generated based on recently posted site content via some creative PHP hacking.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:34 am

RickyTick wrote:I'm curious how many hits a spam ad gets on a tech savvy site like this. I'd be shocked if it was more than zero.

Hits aren't really the goal. The real goal is Search Engine Optimization.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 10:53 am

Having special questions is a start but it isn't enough when they are using people to drive the spamming. What I ended up doing on the site I administer is run a Vbulletin modification that uses Askimet to test if an IP address is associated with spammers. It's done wonders in cutting down on the amount of spam we got on a daily basis. Very few get through those checks since they use honeypots and reporting from many other sites to identify new spammers. The modification wouldn't work for this site but perhaps Techreport can utilize one of those services by adding support for it to the existing code.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:52 am

nanoflower wrote:Having special questions is a start but it isn't enough when they are using people to drive the spamming.

I think it could be reasonably effective if you make the questions hard enough to answer that the guy in the Chinese sweatshop getting paid $0.001 per CAPTCHA is just going to move along to the next site rather than spend a minute chasing down the answer.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Thu Jan 12, 2012 12:14 pm

I know that you can literally find almost anything you can think of online, but I was a bit surprised to find that someone has turned this into a "career opportunity". I suppose in a developing country, there will always be some form of low-wage, sweatshop type labor - whether it's busting CAPTCHAs or stitching t-shirts. And, based on ye olde Purchasing Power Parity theory, that $2.88 a day might kept you fed...in said country. Still...that has to be some MIND NUMBING work. Better than digging ditches....eh, not sure.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 8:50 am

The following should kill this type of spam:

1. Tough Question
2. Admin Approval for new accounts
3. No free email accounts
4. No links
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:36 am

No links would make it damn difficult to discuss stuff on this forum, or link to helpful articles or deals. In addition, free e-mails would shutout most people, and admin approval would be a pain in the ass. These things work best on smaller forums.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:41 am

BuntyMiff wrote:The following should kill this type of spam:

1. Tough Question

But not so tough that you chase legit users away. Striking the right balance is the hard part.

BuntyMiff wrote:2. Admin Approval for new accounts

Yeah, this may be a reasonable option. However, some of the spammers will still get through unless the Admins conduct an "interview" of sorts via e-mail to convince themselves the poster is legit; and at that point, the workload probably becomes comparable to just dealing with the spam. OTOH if we're gonna try to reduce the Admin workload by having a policy of denying accounts from certain countries (the ones that tend to generate the most spam), then we might as well just put a permanent blanket IP block in place... and this is not an option.

BuntyMiff wrote:3. No free email accounts

Not gonna happen, free e-mail accounts have become an integral part of the Internet and aren't going away. Even if they did, the CAPTCHA sweatshops would just set up their own e-mail servers and give their employees in-house e-mail accounts.

BuntyMiff wrote:4. No links

Yes, this would probably help quite a bit since the forums would no longer be an attractive place to post SEO spam. Unfortunately, it also penalizes legitimate registered users by making the forums less convenient to use.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:44 am

I.S.T. wrote:No links would make it damn difficult to discuss stuff on this forum, or link to helpful articles or deals. In addition, free e-mails would shutout most people, and admin approval would be a pain in the ass. These things work best on smaller forums.

IMO it is debatable whether it would be more of a PITA than dealing with the spam, but it likely will not be 100% effective unless it is taken to PITA levels (see my previous post).
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:46 am

Maybe a restriction that a new user can't post links or non-linked URLs until they've reached n posts, where n is something small like five?
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:53 am

bthylafh wrote:Maybe a restriction that a new user can't post links or non-linked URLs until they've reached n posts, where n is something small like five?

Then the spammers will just make 5 quick junk posts to get over the limit. All this does is make *more* work for the mods, since they'll need to delete the junk posts in addition to the spam.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 9:57 am

I'd be curious to see how many spam posts Something Awful gets, with their $10 registration fee. I bet I could count it on zero fingers.

I still believe a $1 non-refundable donation to open a new account, which would still be banned for rules violation, would kill spam bots dead, and pay for some of the site's bills at the same time. Any forum I want to post on that badly, I'd pay a buck if required of me. I'd sooner pay a dollar than have to deal with the "no free email account" restriction at [H].
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:11 am

A pay-wall (even or especially $1) will make a huge amount of your potential new members turn away, just for the effort of having to pay. You might think 'Oh but paypal is so easy' or something along those lines, but you will not find a payment provider that will cover absolutely everyone in your potential userbase.

I think some restrictions on posting links would be enough. Not a post-limit, that just promotes spam, but something like hiding all links posted by new users by default from the public eye. Registered users (and the new user himself) would still see the link and be able to click on it, but the webcrawlers and users who aren't logged in won't see them. I'd let a moderator flip the switch to make the links public. This would allow legitimate new gerbils to interact with the rest of the forum, without giving spammers the chance of posting links. A quick glace of a moderator at a new gerbils posts should be enough to see if he's indeed not a spammer.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:23 am

Firestarter wrote:I think some restrictions on posting links would be enough. Not a post-limit, that just promotes spam, but something like hiding all links posted by new users by default from the public eye. Registered users (and the new user himself) would still see the link and be able to click on it, but the webcrawlers and users who aren't logged in won't see them. I'd let a moderator flip the switch to make the links public. This would allow legitimate new gerbils to interact with the rest of the forum, without giving spammers the chance of posting links. A quick glace of a moderator at a new gerbils posts should be enough to see if he's indeed not a spammer.

Interesting. I wonder if there's an existing phpBB plugin for this?

One potential flaw in this idea: You're assuming the spammers actually read the forum policies before signing up and posting. So the end result may be that we still get the same amount of spam... just with the links hidden from the search engines.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:30 am

just brew it! wrote:One potential flaw in this idea: You're assuming the spammers actually read the forum policies before signing up and posting. So the end result may be that we still get the same amount of spam... just with the links hidden from the search engines.

That's me assuming that with measures like these in place, spammers would learn to avoid TR :lol:

But I'd settle for just twarting black-hat SEO, while not scaring away genuine users. If the spammers catch on and don't bother with TR, that'd be a plus.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:45 am

Firestarter wrote:That's me assuming that with measures like these in place, spammers would learn to avoid TR :lol:

"Learn"? Seems to me the fact that they've chosen posting forum spam as a career is an indication they're probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer... :lol:
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:48 am

Firestarter wrote:A pay-wall (even or especially $1) will make a huge amount of your potential new members turn away, just for the effort of having to pay. You might think 'Oh but paypal is so easy' or something along those lines, but you will not find a payment provider that will cover absolutely everyone in your potential userbase.

I wouldn't consider it a full paywall. Anyone could read, but if you want to post, if you truly feel the need to be heard or answered, it should be worth one dollar, one time. Not a subscription, just a buck to be able to post for life. You can sign up, search, read posts all you want, but $1 before your first post.

The obvious reason spammers are winning is because there is almost no overhead whatsoever. Sending a million emails from a compromised yahoo account, or running "enroll and spam" scripts on forums has so little overhead that even just 1 or 2 people buying their junk probably pays for months or years worth of our misery. TR is a high traffic site, otherwise it wouldn't get hit so hard.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Wed Jan 18, 2012 11:04 am

kvndoom wrote:I wouldn't consider it a full paywall. Anyone could read, but if you want to post, if you truly feel the need to be heard or answered, it should be worth one dollar, one time. Not a subscription, just a buck to be able to post for life. You can sign up, search, read posts all you want, but $1 before your first post.

It's called a paywall for a reason, because it's a wall that most won't jump over even if it's just out of sheer lazyness. You'll end up blocking out the noob gerbil who just wants to ask why his computer is so slow, and fast forward 1 year he's posting on some other site, giving others advice, instead of sticking around at TR. TR isn't like SomethingAwful, where people are willing to shell out $10 just to be like the other 'cool' guys, or something.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Mon Jan 23, 2012 7:31 pm

Firestarter wrote:It's called a paywall for a reason, because it's a wall that most won't jump over even if it's just out of sheer lazyness. You'll end up blocking out the noob gerbil who just wants to ask why his computer is so slow, and fast forward 1 year he's posting on some other site, giving others advice, instead of sticking around at TR. TR isn't like SomethingAwful, where people are willing to shell out $10 just to be like the other 'cool' guys, or something.


+1

My first post was in 2007 when I needed help on my first build. If TR charged me $1 to join i'd be on another forum. Now fast foward a few years and I'm a tad bit more active :D
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Tue Jan 24, 2012 11:57 am

re: "Hits aren't really the goal. The real goal is Search Engine Optimization." -- Lawyer blog Volokh Conspiracy had a note on this recently. He contacted the lawyers whose spam was showing up to tell them the spam wasn't really conveying the professional image they might want. In most cases, the lawyers had hired an SEO service and didn't know what that service was doing. That SEO racket is almost as bad as the spam problem (which is almost as bad as the troll problem).

Many blogs have gone to using Facebook as a login verification for comments. If you don't have a Facebook account, then you can't participate in the discussion.

That gets into the anonymity issue. Being anonymous in speaking is something new that is being pushed as an inherent right. I don't know about that as it seems more like an avenue to escape responsibility for one's behavior. Without accountability measures to stimulate responsibilities, things can easily get out of hand.

It will be interesting to see how standards to inhibit abuse of the network evolve. The hacking and spam and trolling and similar behaviors are extremely costly right now. A lot of it seems egregious and nowhere near the boundaries of appropriate behavior. It is a struggle trying to handle it and that puts a lot of stimulus on finding solutions.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Tue Jan 24, 2012 1:05 pm

BuntyMiff wrote:The following should kill this type of spam:

1. Tough Question
2. Admin Approval for new accounts
3. No free email accounts
4. No links


So says the 'person' that has 1 post and just made an account 12 min prior to making said post.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:36 pm

I still wonder if there's a simple solution to this: just prevent (or strip) links from users until those users have been "approved" by a mod. When you create a new account at TR you can read everything, and you can post anywhere, but those posts can't include a {url} tag (or it gets filtered out). Links sometimes can be convenient for people asking for help, but they're not really necessary -- and most new users don't take advantage of any BBCode initially anyway. Some users might participate for quite a while before they even realize they need mod approval to make use of it. And meanwhile, the spammers lose the only reason for their posts. (Of course that's not going to stop spam right away, and the automated shotgun nature of comment spam means that they may not even notice for some time, but at least TR isn't contributing to the SEO wins they're trying to get)
bryanl wrote:re: "Hits aren't really the goal. The real goal is Search Engine Optimization." -- Lawyer blog Volokh Conspiracy had a note on this recently. He contacted the lawyers whose spam was showing up to tell them the spam wasn't really conveying the professional image they might want. In most cases, the lawyers had hired an SEO service and didn't know what that service was doing. That SEO racket is almost as bad as the spam problem (which is almost as bad as the troll problem).
And I think this also explains the "you'd think the spammers would learn" point -- the SEO racket is selling a "get rich quick" scheme to the schmucks who actually go out and do the spamming, but there's a lot of churn among them as they eventually discover they're not getting rich (and not even slowly). And there's no institutional memory about which sites aren't worth hitting, nor any incentive to create one, since the SEO operations can just turn around and sell the same list of websites to the next sucker.
Many blogs have gone to using Facebook as a login verification for comments. If you don't have a Facebook account, then you can't participate in the discussion.
This is a cure that's as bad as the disease -- just infecting the users instead of the site. I haven't and don't want to sign up to use Disqus, and I certainly don't want to have to bow down to Facebook whenever I want to post on some other site. They're already gathering more information on me than I want thanks to my friends' posts; I certainly don't want them tracking, packaging, and selling my activity everywhere I go on the web. If TR started abdicating its log-ins to Facebook, I'd think hard and long about it but I'm pretty sure my decision ultimately would be to stop posting here.
That gets into the anonymity issue. Being anonymous in speaking is something new that is being pushed as an inherent right. I don't know about that as it seems more like an avenue to escape responsibility for one's behavior. Without accountability measures to stimulate responsibilities, things can easily get out of hand.
It should be possible to be anonymous on the internet (eliminating anonymity is what enables regimes to track down and punish their critics, for example), but there's no requirement that your behavior on any particular site be protected by anonymity. There are better solutions to the problem than handing it over to Facebook, however.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:03 pm

just brew it! wrote:
bthylafh wrote:Maybe a restriction that a new user can't post links or non-linked URLs until they've reached n posts, where n is something small like five?

Then the spammers will just make 5 quick junk posts to get over the limit. All this does is make *more* work for the mods, since they'll need to delete the junk posts in addition to the spam.

You could still construct this carefully so it has a very limited effect on legitimate users. Instead of just making it five posts, make it so you can't post a link until the day after you reach five posts. If they make five spam posts, those will get picked up and their account blocked before they're able to post the actual spam they want to make, due to the time constraint. Making five legitimate posts would probably be too much work on their behalf- they'll just move to an easier target instead.

Perhaps if there were security questions like the ones they have on the Steam forums? Those are pretty simple questions to get past- if you don't know the answer you can still do a quick search for the answer, but it would still increase the work load for a spammer by quite a bit.
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Re: Whats up with the Spam bots?

Postposted on Tue Jan 24, 2012 6:42 pm

Geistbar wrote:You could still construct this carefully so it has a very limited effect on legitimate users. Instead of just making it five posts, make it so you can't post a link until the day after you reach five posts. If they make five spam posts, those will get picked up and their account blocked before they're able to post the actual spam they want to make, due to the time constraint. Making five legitimate posts would probably be too much work on their behalf- they'll just move to an easier target instead.
I actually thought about this before making my suggestion above, and decided it was a bad idea. It really doesn't make things any easier (in fact, it may make the forum coding task harder), and all it will really do is encourage spammers to make five quick garbage posts and then start throwing up link posts. In other words, it very well might increase the number of unwanted posts. And the reality is that it's quite possible to be an active member of the community without ever posting a link. In particular, the first-time users we're worried about not turning away (or creating a barrier for) generally don't need to post links; the people helping them often do, but for the most part they're already site veterans. It's hard to say how much of a workload increase it would be for the mods if every new forum member is required to ping them to get linking approval, and ultimately that's the key determinant of how viable this would be, but I don't think it would be the end of the world if new users had to wait a day or two to get that approval either -- and, like I said, it could be that new users would go on for quite a while before even realizing they're "limited" in this way.
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