I received a scam email claiming to be from the IMF, all about who to contact if you fell for an advance fee fraud scam claiming to be from the IMF. All you have to do to get your money back is send your info and $150 to Barrister so-and-so to set up an account, just contact this GMail address…
I woke up to ten or so first-time comments* in the moderation queue at Speed Force this morning. As I started reading them I was briefly confused: they were well-written, specific comments about comic books….that had nothing to do with the posts they were attached to. Complaining about Bendis’ writing on an interview with Paul Ryan (the artist, not the politician). Gushing about an Ultra-Humanite figure on a review of a Flash comic. Tips on finding exclusive Aquaman figures on a Flash TV episode review.
Then I felt strangely nostalgic, because I hadn’t seen this sort of spam in a long time.
As near as I can tell, the spammer finds a related site, scrapes comments from it, and pastes them into the target site. To what end I’m not sure, because the comments all linked to Facebook profiles. Most comment spam seems to be about link generation to prop up a spamvertised site in search rankings. But sure enough, when I searched for phrases from the spammy comments, I found the originals on a Daredevil fan blog, an action figure site, an artist’s blog, and so on.
I’ve got to give the spammer a little credit for two things:
- Finding actual comics-related blogs to scrape comments from.
- Inserting typos to make it harder to match. Though Google’s pretty good at fixing those.
In the end, though…
*I have WordPress set up so that first-time commenters always go through moderation, while returning commenters are allowed through unless they trips a filter.
I had to clean up a spam flood last week. A reader sent me an email that Speed Force’s Facebook feed appeared to have been hacked. TL;DR: someone had posted a couple dozen spammy pictures to the site’s Flickr group, which were then auto-shared to Facebook and Twitter. Fortunately there was no unauthorized access, just misuse of an open forum, or cleanup could have been a lot worse.
So I removed all the posts from Facebook and Twitter, replied to all the reports, posted an “oops” on each network and the blog itself, banned the spammy account, and tightened moderation on the group.
- Don’t auto-share anything that you don’t control.
- Moderate all the things!
- Maybe notification alerts aren’t such a bad idea after all.
Here’s a fascinating look back at the spam wars by former Gmail spamfighter Mike Hearn.
I was involved for most of the previous decade as (among other things) the email admin for a small ISP. We used a mix of public blacklists, a private blacklist, virus filtering, SpamAssassin with both shared rules and local custom rules, and various other tools all tied together, some at the Sendmail level and the rest through MIMEDefang. It worked tolerably well, though of course it wasn’t perfect. I find it amusing that Gmail declared victory on spam in 2010, the same year that I changed jobs to a position that was more software developer and less sysadmin.
Privacy is a growing concern these days, so he also talks about the impact that widespread end-to-end email encryption would have on spam fighting. If you’re the mail handler, you can’t filter on, say, links found in the message, or characteristics of the writing or formatting, or anything else in the content. You can’t even run statistical analysis on all known spam and non-spam to see which the new message fits better. All you can do is look at where it came from and where it’s going.
Moving the spam filter to the client lets you do content filtering on your own mail, but you can’t take advantage of the larger volume of data that an ISP can, which means your filtering isn’t going to be as effective. And if your main email client is your phone, that’s really going to slow it down — and chew up battery.
Encrypting more of our communication is probably the way to go, but we’ll have to come up with new approaches to some previously-solved problems like this.
It got me thinking: Most of us not only accept that our email providers will look inside our mail to filter spam and viruses, we expect it. That’s weird. The idea of the post office looking inside our letters is so abhorrent that even tracking programs raise concerns. The idea of an actual person reading our email in transit creeps us out. Many people have problems with the idea of automated systems (like Gmail) reading our email for purposes of targeted advertising. But spam filtering? We get upset if it’s not happening!
That says something interesting about our priorities, and about how big an impact unfiltered spam has on our email.
Spam is annoying at the best of times, but over the years I’ve learned to tune it out (and in some cases find amusement in it). But a spam comment that I’ve been seeing across several blogs lately is just plain insulting.
I see a lot of interesting content on your page. You have to spend a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of time, there is a tool that creates unique, SEO friendly posts in couple of minutes… [Search terms omitted because I don’t want to give them the publicity.]
Right: So I’ve got interesting content, I clearly spend a lot of time writing, but you’re telling me I should use some tool to auto-generate everything instead. Autogenerate this, jerkwad!
Though I do have to admit I’m amused at the idea of autogenerated spam clogging up the comment sections of autogenerated articles…