Chasers war on Spam

Mikey 3 comments
Chasers war on Spam

The battleground is usually a site like the one you are on now, or an information portal, or a blog. A place where people can openly post comments or contribute with little effort. As more and more webmasters are finding, this 'honour system' unfortunately leaves the door wide open for spam.

Spam, traditionally the unsolicited perpetrator of your inbox, has grown to monolithic proportions on web sites partially due to the popularity of Blogs having taken hold in recent years.

I have written about Spam before and as a webmaster of a web site that is fast gaining more exposure, I can safely concede ‘comment spam' to be the worst of the culprits. On average I would manage 'comment spam' 3- 10 times a day.

There are some well known methods to help filter a large percentage of comment spam, one of the more common methods being CAPTCHA. To the uninitiated, the acronym standards for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. You will no doubt have already seen this method used on many web sites, where you are forced to decipher the alpha numeric combination in an image before you can submit your comments. These typically look something like this:


This works for one simple reason: spambots cannot interpret the text the image contains. While this method does cut down on spam, there are several disadvantages. Inaccessibility to the visually impaired for one, but the most obvious problem being the burden is placed upon the user. In any event it will not matter anytime soon, as a proof of concept has appeared which has a high success rate of beating the CAPTCHA. And you can bet it will improve with age.

The guys at the Rusty Lime labs have been working on several new anti-spam methods for a few weeks now, with a focus of not burdening the user. Although they were solid on paper, they only had limited success when put into practice.

Our efforts have been futile anyway. Spammers have unveiled a new weapon that will make filtering near impossible: because it involves humans.

A new type of spambot adds an additional stage to the usual process. Allow me to walk you through the 'usual process'.

The spambot hits a site and populates the comments fields of a form with content pimping a product, usually Viagra or porn. Then it attempts to submit the form and assuming there are no CAPTCHA prevention methods in place (or it is smart enough to bypass the CAPTCHA), some unlucky sod will now have unsolicited adverts on his web site. It is a completely automated process.

The new stage is scary indeed. If the form cannot be submitted (the CAPTCHA is successful), it sends an automated message along with details of the web page it was unable to spam, to a person sitting at a workstation in an underprivileged country who will get paid to manually spam the page.

$0.01 per manual spam does not seem like much money but several hundred spam comments per week is good money for people who live in countries where a few dollars a day can provide a comfortable living for an entire family.

With the $100 laptop almost upon us (a fantastic project where up to 15 million laptops will be provided to children in disadvantaged countries), the problem may increase exponentially if proper prevention methods are not put in place. Education for starters.

It's a catch 22 from one perspective. To deny a steady wage to the poor is not something anybody wants to think about. Especially when the manual spammer probably doesn't even realise he is doing anything wrong. But at the same time, I didn't ask for spam on my web site and I will delete it the moment I spot it.

With humans in the equation, the war may be lost already.
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Wednesday 29th November 2006 | 08:35 PM

hate the stuff, though thanks to mike and him telling me bout spam bully only e-mail comes thru that i know i can open and all otehr crap i can delete.

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Thursday 30th November 2006 | 09:38 AM

I always thought spam was more associated with email. There should be a different term for web spam. How about 'Wam'? :-)

Jokes aside its amazing how far they will go. Does anyone ever purposely click on the obvious spam ads?

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Saturday 23rd December 2006 | 03:34 PM

It's amazing that it's completely useless stuff that I've never heard of anyone taking advantage of - I've not heard of anyone purchasing Viagra via email, nor have I heard of anyone who takes these emails/comments into account.

I don't understand why spam is about, but then I suppose I don't have to. As long as I know that they're sending me emails, I still feel important.

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