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November 24, 2008

WordPressDirect: Blogging Tool or Spam Engine?

A recent post on Mashable regarding a tool called WordPress Direct elicited a great deal of passion on both sides. One commenter, for example, called the service a “one stop shop spam blog engine” while another, who claims to have used the service, said it was “a simple solution to adding new posts to a blog in between longer, hand written posts”.

But what is clear is that tools like WordPress Direct are becoming more and more common. Part of the double-edged nature of open source development is that, while most will use the license to extend the product in healthy ways, a few will do so in ways that can be used for unethical purpose. Though this is not an argument against open source, more and more tools like WordPress Direct have sprung up, often charging high monthly fees for “maintenance free” blogging.

But what does WordPress Direct do and is it a spam tool? The answer is complicated and made more so by the fact that the nature of spam and even the definition of spam is a moving target. However, it is clear that WordPress Direct, along with similar products, have a lot of potentially dangerous uses and, if its marketing is any indication, those uses are very much by design. read more

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October 22, 2008

TIME Piece on CAPTCHA

CAPTCHA is that annoying technology that asks you to type the characters in an image in a field to post a comment, get an account, or whatever. It’s a spam fighting tool, and one of the more successful ones I might add.

TIME’s got a piece on CAPTCHA which should be pretty interesting reading if you want to know about where it is originating, and what is being done to make sure that it stays successful. Personally, I hate it, but it serves its purpose and probably makes the web a better place, don’t you think?

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September 29, 2008

The Future of Blog Spam

When Steven Carrol of The Next Web admitted to using a content generation service known as Datapresser, reportedly after seeing it used by an unnamed author at TechCrunch, he seemed to indicate that it was the future of mainstream blog publishing.

But while there is no doubt that at least some mainstream blogs use content creation tools to aid in meeting their deadlines, content generation has found a much more comfortable home with another group, spammers.

Creating content from nothing has always been something of a holy grail for spammers. Traditionally, filling their junk blogs has required scraping content from article databases, other blogs (usually without permission) or other sources. This has made them easy for search engines to spot and also drawn the ire of many bloggers who have had their content reused.

But technology is advancing and content generation is becoming increasingly practical. Many spammers have already moved to it and it seems likely that others will follow soon. This has some strong implications for both the future of spam and the Web itself. read more

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September 2, 2008

Maybe it is Time for a Super Premium Version of Akismet?

Take a look at the comment below, caught by Akismet and held for moderation on a client blog I have access to, but not automatically marked as spam and removed when clicking the Check for Spam button. Why do I have to see it? What in this comment makes it even remotely possible to be a valid one?

Don’t get me wrong, Akismet is a great service, and it saves me a lot of time, as it does numerous others, but sometimes it amazes me what it lets through. And I’m not only thinking about the porn spam that litters most blogs’ moderation queues (or comment areas) should they have obtained some degree of traffic. read more

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August 30, 2008

ZDNet takes a look at the CAPTCHA economy in India

Filed as News with no comments

Many of us use CAPTCHA technology for preventing comment spam, registration spam on forums, or for other spam blocking mechanisms on email and other online tools.

Did you know there was an entire underground economy operating in the world focused on defeating those CAPTCHA blocks?

ZDNet takes a look inside the India version of that economy:

Let’s analyze the shady data processing economy of India, discuss exclusive photos of Indian workers breaking MySpace and Google CAPTCHAs, and take a tour inside the web applications of several Bangladesh based franchises, whose team of almost 1,000 international workers is actively soliciting deals for breaking Craigslist, Gmail, Yahoo, MySpace, YouTube and Facebook’s CAPTCHA, promising to deliver 250k solved CAPTCHAs per day on a “$2 for a 1000 solved CAPTCHAs” rate.

The story goes on to examine a few different “de-CAPTCHA” firms and has pictures of the workers and links to their websites.

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August 22, 2008

Twitter Turns Up the Heat On Spam, Hires People

Twitter wants us to know that they are trying to fight the spam hitting them. In a blog post, they outline how they combat spam, highlighting three different areas:

  • Suspended Accounts which is really a better internal admin tool
  • Community Powered Alerts which is really better analyzing of spam blocking by users
  • Dedicated Personnel which is hiring more people to manage the spam problem

Sure, the explanations above might be my interpretation, but I believe it pretty much sums it up. This is all well and good, but what calms me the most (had I been upset, that is), is how Biz Stone wraps up the post:

There is no magic wand we can wave or switch we can flip to make it all go away. Spammers will keep finding inventive new ways to advance their motives and harm user experience and we’ll keep shutting them down and slowing their progress. We just wanted to make sure everyone knows that we are taking spam seriously.

Thanks for not bullshitting us, Biz! To be completely honest, spam isn’t such an issue for me (on Twitter). Then again, I’m not re-following everyone following, so I’m probably not that easy to get to for the spammers.

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August 4, 2008

Blogger.com Marks Blogs as Spam, Unmarks Them

It appears as if Google’s Blogger service have had some issues over the weekend. On Friday, they marked bunch of blogs as spam, which was quickly identified and written about. The issue was resolved on Saturday, with explanations:

We want to offer our sincerest apologies to affected bloggers and their readers. We’ve tracked down the problem to a bug in our data processing code that locked blogs even when our algorithms concluded they were not spam. We are adding additional monitoring and process checks to ensure that bugs of this magnitude are caught before they can affect your data.

This isn’t a good thing for Blogger of course, and certainly hurts the brand.

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June 2, 2008

Assembling the Spam Puzzle

Fighting spam has proved to be a nearly impossible task.

The best and brightest minds of the legal and technical worlds have failed to come up with solutions to stem the flow of junk email, splogs or spam comments.

Every new law or technological advancement has just been an escalation in a never-ending arms race between the many who hate spam and the few that send it out.

To be certain, spam plays a much smaller part in our lives today than it did a few years ago. We rarely see spam in our inboxes, spam comments are largely filtered out and only search spam seems to work with any reliability, especially with blogs.

However, the junk content keeps flowing at an ever-increasing rate. More and more junk email gets sent out every year, comment spam is on the rise too.

We have managed to treat the symptoms, but not the illness. This is because we have been dealing with how spam mails us, one issue at a time rather than looking at the bigger picture.

It is time to take a look at the spam puzzle and how it all fits together.

read more

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Blog Herald Commenting System Now Back Online

For the past few days we’ve been receiving complaints of comments being blocked or IPs, emails and domains being blacklisted from posting comments. Blame it on overactive spam filters or perhaps oversight on our part. Spam Karma 2 has been blocking most comments recently, and nothing has been able to get through, for some reason.

We have yet to check whether this is due to plugin incompatibilities or other reasons, but for the time being we’ve switched SK2 off. This could lead to some spam comments being published, but we’ll try our best to weed these out. What’s important is that valid comments get through, and on time.

At any rate, folks, we’re sorry for the inconvenience. Some of you have been very vigilant about this. Thank you for the reminders. After all, being the Blog Herald we’re supposed to be advocates of open communication through blogs. And it’s also in our comments policy not to pre-moderate or censor comments unless they’re blatantly spam or offensive.

Some of your comments may still be in the moderation threads. As Spam Karma uses a different moderation queue from WordPress’ own, and since the interface does not exactly make it very easy to recover the few valid comments from among the thousands of spam comments, it’s going to take a while. If you think you’d rather re-post your comments, please feel free to do so.

Again, on behalf of the editor and other contributors here at the Blog Herald, we express our sincere apologies.

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May 30, 2008

Six Apart launches TypePad AntiSpam open source comment spam solution

Filed as News with 2 comments

Six Apart has announced that it’s making the technology behind TypePad’s blog comment spam system freely available to bloggers using Movable Type 3/4, WordPress 2.5, or “any other platform which supports spam plugins”. The system is already built in to TypePad.

The beta version of TypePad AntiSpam is now available to both personal and commercial users, regardless of how many comments their blogs receive. It’s a self-learning system, meaning that whenever a user reports a comment as spam, the system should learn from that, and improve its spam filters.

As a potential rival to Akismet, TypePad AntiSpam is also fully compatible with its API.

As for concerns that open sourcing the system will simply aid spammers wishing to circumvent the system, the FAQ explains: “We aren’t sharing all of the rules and logic that we run with our implementation of the TypePad AntiSpam engine. We are open sourcing the core engine, allowing others to build on top of our system allowing them to build and operate their own spam service.”

An enterprise-class service may be offered in the future, along with a customised service for users with specific requirements.

TypePad AntiSpam

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