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A Spambot proving ground


Automated spambots are programs designed to infiltrate forums, guestbooks, blogs etc. Usually their aim is to spread hyperlinks (which lead to pages where the user can expect everything from simple advertising to evil trojan-infestations) or to do at least only some annoying stuff like disrupting forum page layouts etc. Such automated buggers are the main reason why CAPTCHAs exist. "Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart" are those nasty distorted words one has to decipher to fill out a form or to register at a website. Sometimes I fear the CAPTCHAs have advanced to a point where I NEED a program to identify the words correctly, because I start to fail those tests more often than not :) There is a constant struggle between the good (forum admins) and the bad (spambots) to develop new measures and counter-measures. I even read about new job opportunities for the so-called "china farmers", who are people playing World of Warcraft only to generate ingame money to sell it to rich players for real money. Nowadays you can work full time typing in CAPTCHA responses to assist spambots in taking the hurdle when aquiring new accounts. Sorry for bothering you with those details, but it helps understanding the next paragraph.

In my last blog entry I wrote about a question in our General PC help forum, of which I found duplicates in more than 100 different forums all over the world and where I showed my disappointment the OTC never called back after receiving an answer. I think I have solved the riddle, because the same OTC just posted another question at our same forum. Again his problem was not sim-related at all, but a very general PC question. Again I did the google check. This time TSR was the 78th forum into which he had posted his question. Naturally, this time I didn't bother to reply to the thread. I checked with google again whether the guy had at least replied in any forum to his older post. I wasn't really surprised to see that the initial 100 forums he had honoured with his request had increased in size and google now found more than 1.800 different forums into which his network connectivity question had been posted.

Google finds

 

Now I looked closer at his postings at TSR and discovered that both postings initially had contained spam links (sometimes they are hidden in signatures to make spotting them more difficult), but our forum moderator was wary enough to remove them. For me it's clear those threads were just made by a spambot to smuggle in unwanted links into the forum. Probably I was not the only one coming to this conclusion, because strangly a day later the new spambot-made question had been removed from some of the other forums I saw them in yesterday, bringing the total down to mere 23 sites. I reported my suspicion to our forum guardians, but obviously they think it sufficient to have the link disabled, because the thread remained intact.

What conclusions am I drawing from it? Spambots seem to become more and more cleverly disguised, imitating real persons with real concerns. I do not want to waste my precious time answering to fake requests. Our forum doesn't seem to be immune to spambots. So what kind of measure should I take to protect me? Shall I ignore threads started by new accounts (but then many register to a forum only the moment they see the need for it, namely because of having to ask about a problem)? Shall I ignore threads that contain links (but some may be "real" links where the OTC points to additional information)? Shall I only answer to threads with a clear relation to the Sims (because a spambot verly likely uses a general question to fit into as many forums as possible)? Should I just check google each time before a reply? Or should I restrict help to persons I do know already through other activities at the site? Thoughts on this are very welcome.

I will also start a poll on it.

 

 


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#1fredbrennyOct 29, 2010

That's interesting... I would say that Sim-related questions would be on its place on a Sim forum and can be answered (or not...), other technical questions I would definitely check out first. Even the member blog here has spambots posting nasty blogs... about all sort of things but Sims and directs you to uggs and handbags from different designers, all made in China of course... I tend not to read them as one is removed another one will take its place.
Again... interesting blog Flatter...

#2ShelleyBOct 30, 2010

\:rah\:Thanks for the information and making us think. As in all things, when popularity is high, the popular product becomes a target for attack. Niche marketers. What can we do? Form information networks and rely on the input of conscientious researchers like you. (I need the "not worthy" emoticon right now.....)

#3MangioOct 30, 2010

I didn't know such things as spambots existing \:P Hey Servo... great timing to come ruin our fun. I hate ads already, and this is just really annoying. There are people who need REAL help and don't need to be bombarded by terrorizing spambots. Another interesting blogpost, Flatter \:\) You really know your stuff \:wub\:

#4flody888Nov 13, 2010

Wow. I'm with Mangio. I didn't even know these things existed! I guess one can only go with our gut and help when we think someone needs it and be wary of fake requests. Wow, again.

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