I have been preoccupied with Web spammers lately. They have invaded the SF-Fandom forums in greater numbers than I have seen in a long, long time. So this past week I finally implemented the strictest email filters I have ever used. The filters have almost stopped all spam submissions.
Of course, we’re blocking thousands of IP addresses and all the major free email domains (AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo!). It hardly seems fair to the users of those services to require that they contact us directly to request that their accounts be created for them manually but we do take on an extra burden ourselves.
The registration spam problem has grown so bad that other VBulletin users are now complaining that their CAPTCHAs are being circumvented. It is well known in the SEO industry that many of these spammers hire low-cost labor in overseas markets like India, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Philippines to manually create email and forum accounts. So we’re not just fighting robots here.
In the age of Twitter and Facebook people might wonder if 1990s-style Web forums are about done but I would like to believe that there is a still a place for the Web forums. We have a lot of great users at SF-Fandom who like to discuss books, movies, and entertainment news. And there are many other people who enjoy browsing our forums.
The registration spammers don’t all seem to pursue the same goals. Time was when they all wanted to drop links in the forums, but they learned quickly that many forum moderators delete the posts. So then they turned to just creating profile pages with links. I block search engines from crawling our user profile pages so even when spammers get past our guard they get no benefit from that.
But over the past year or so I have noticed an increasing number of spam registrations that don’t associate themselves with Websites. What is the purpose of these accounts? I’m a little worried.
Among the measures we take to prevent the spammers from gaining a foothold in the forums is that we require all new users to respond to a confirmation email. Most of the spam accounts don’t seem to do this, or they delay doing it. We have been inundated with bounce messages from unconfirmed registrations.
Lists of Web forums and blogs are circulated among the Web spammers. They use software like XRumer to created hundreds, possibly thousands of forum accounts across the Web every day. These people have absolutely no morals or ethics. They are just trying to make a buck off of other people’s hard labor.
If you run a science fiction forum and you’ve seen a lot of registrations but relatively little activity in the way of new posts, you’re probably being hammered by registration spammers. You should take a closer look at what is going on and see if you can batten down the hatches.
Over the past few weeks we have deleted around 2500 registration spam accounts at SF-Fandom. They weren’t all created at once. We let our guard down for a while. That won’t happen again.