Where Trump Language Spam Is Coming From

Posted by TechyDad on December 8, 2016 under Blogging, Spam

A few days ago, I noticed a tweet from Amy Ozten:

I decided to look at my Google Analytics to see if I was being hit with this. When I loaded the stats for my new GhostThiefNovel.com website, I saw a big spike in traffic. My first thought was “hooray! My efforts to get the word out about my novel are paying off.” Sadly, though, my traffic hadn’t spiked all that much. Instead, my Ghost Thief site was being hit with the very Language Spam that Amy Oztan was talking about.

Needless to say, this upset me a bit. And when I’m upset, I tend to do what I always fall back on…

Collecting data.

(What? Everyone doesn’t collect data when they’re upset?)

I checked some other sites I manage and sure enough many of those were hit with the language spam just like my Ghost Thief site was. Thankfully, I was able to create a Google Analytics filter to weed out the spam. It won’t block the spammers from hitting your site (something that I’m actually working on), but it will let you see your actual traffic minus the “Vote Trump” language spam. Fortunately, Google lets you share out custom built filters (they call them segments), so click here to add it to your Google Analytics.

Next, I started to wonder where all this language spam was coming from. Was this spread out all over or was it localized in one region? I went through all of the sites whose Google Analytics I have access to and put together a spreadsheet. The results were obvious right from the start. There was a large array of countries that the spam was coming from including France, Japan, Hungary, and even the United States. By far, though, Russia accounted for the most language spam traffic. Russia’s share was 98.4% of the traffic. The closest countries – the United States and Ukraine – were tied at 0.19% each.

Put in a graph:

LanguageSpamOrgins

 

What’s the takeaway from this? Well, Russian hackers have been in the news a lot, so it’s tempting to bring them up and try to link these two topics. I don’t think they are linked – except in the sense of Internet “bad guys” coming from Russia. Also, it’s tempting to just say “Block all traffic from Russia,” but valid traffic can come from there as well. If your target audience is localized enough, blocking a whole country might work, but this definitely isn’t the right solution for most people. Instead, for now, use the Google Analytics filter to get your real traffic numbers and stay tuned as I work on my “anti-language spam” Google plugin.

 

Oh, and check out my book’s website. It’d be nice for the numbers to spike because of real traffic and not because of some spammers.

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A Cure For Comment Spam Ills

Posted by TechyDad on November 11, 2013 under Blogging, Spam

no-spamIf you run a blog that allows people to comment on posts, it is inevitable.  You will get comment spammers stopping by.  They will post in hopes that their comments will provide links to their websites peddling "medicinal products", adult content, and other items that you probably would rather not have on your website.  The links – these spammers hope – will mean that their sites will gain a better Google ranking and lure more people to their websites.

Side note to explain "Google ranking" in case you don’t know:  Google ranks sites based, in part, on how many links there are to them.  The sheer number isn’t the only method, however.  Sites who themselves have a better Google ranking lend more weight to the sites they link to.  For example, if CNN were to link to my blog, I’d get a much bigger Google-boost than if some spam site nobody ever heard about linked to me.  The spammers hope that the comment spam links from the blogs they "visit" will help boost their Google ranking.

It would be bad enough if spammers went around leaving garbage comments to increase their Google ranking, but spammers don’t stop there.  They employ networks of compromised computers ("spambots") to do their bidding.  Using this tactic, they can post dozens of their spam comments from different IP addresses, getting around IP address blocks.

Thankfully, there are an array of tools that you can use to thwart spammers.  I’ve used a few of these in the past to varying effects.  Akismet helped block nearly all spam comments, though a few did still slip through.  NoSpamNX helped block a bunch more.  Unfortunately, while the spam comments (for the most part) didn’t appear on my site, they were still in my database.  I could delete them but there was still server load to think of.

All of those spammers sending all of that data to my database might not cause my to unwittingly boost their Google rating, but they could slow down my server.  For some reason, my blog seemed wildly popular with the spammers.  It seemed that I was getting almost a hundred spam comments a day.  And then it got worse.

On November 5th, I received 252 spam comments.  TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY TWO!  The next day, the total quickly rose up and threatened to top even this.

Something had to be done.

Jenn (aka KissMyKitty) recommended Captcha by BestWebSoft.  I was leery since I hate whenever sites use captchas.  This plugin, however, doesn’t give you garbled text that you need to decipher and re-type, though.  Instead, it gives you a simple math problem such as:  One + 3 = _____   If you type in "4", your comment will move on to Akismet and my other anti-spam measures.  If you are a spam-bot and don’t understand math like this, your comment won’t even be saved into the database.

Good idea in theory, but how will it hold up in practice?  Take a look at this graph:

spam-comments-graph

(Click on the graph for a bigger version.)

That huge drop in spam comments was right after I installed Captcha.  Spam comments initially were so non-existent that I figured something was wrong with my comment form.  One test comment later, though, and I knew that it was just Captcha confounding the bots.  Yes, some spammers did manage to get by, but at a greatly reduced rate.  Instead of dealing with a flood of comment spammers, I now only see a trickle coming in.  In the four days since I installed the plugin, I had only 8 spam comments with my biggest spam day since installing it at 6 comments.  My pre-Captcha low was 39.

Given that Captcha is so effective against spambots, so easy for real human posters, and free to boot, it’s definitely going into my Must Have anti-spam toolkit.

NOTE: The "no spam" image above was partially created out of "no sign" by skotan which is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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If Spam Were Useful

Posted by TechyDad on February 1, 2013 under Email, Spam

envelope_smallLike many people, I get a lot of spam.  Everything from deceased Nigerian princes whose fortunes I can have, international lotteries I won despite never entering, casinos asking me to gamble with them, and herbal supplements to increase anatomical measurements.

Most times, this spam just gets grabbed by my spam filter and tosses in the virtual trash.  I do look through my spam folder, from time to time.  Mostly it is to find any real e-mails that may have been dumped there.  (I’ve lost giveaway wins because the “you won” e-mail went to my spam folder and I didn’t check it soon enough.  Lesson learned.)  Sometimes, though, I just look at the things I’m being sent and laugh.

A few days ago, SelfishMom tweeted: “I keep getting emails for cheap Canadian pills. Send me emails for cheap Canadian Twirl bars and we’ll talk. They’re $2.50 in my ‘hood.”

This got me thinking.  What if could spammers were to send us offers that actually tempted us?  What would those e-mails be?

In my case, the International Lottery “winnings” would vanish to be replaced by “You’ve been one million Unlimited DVC points.  You may use these to stay at the Disney resort of your choice.”  The dead Nigerian princes would disappear and, in their place would be a (very much alive) maid/child sitting service that would offer to watch our children and clean our house for free while my wife and I went out on a date night.  Those herbal supplement e-mails would go away and, instead, I’d get offers for a wonder gadget that could cook a healthy dinner that my whole family would love – and clean up from it as well.

If spammers begin sending these message, I’ll find myself very tempted to click on them, even though I’ll still know I shouldn’t.

What topics would make spam nearly irresistible to you?

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Why So Spammy?

Posted by TechyDad on November 22, 2011 under Blogging, Spam, TechyDad.com

When blogging, it can be discouraging to post day after day and see little to no comments.  Almost worse than no comments, however, are tons of comments.  Tons of spam comments, that is.  Since I last deleted the spam comments (on November 9th), this blog has gotten over 1,600 spam comments.  That’s over 130 per day or 1 spam comment every 11 minutes!  Here’s a graph of my spam comments day to day.

 

spam-vs-real-comments

 

That big red line shows how many spam comments I got daily.  The green line hugging zero?  Those are my non-spam comments.  If only I could transform spam comments into real comments, I’d have more comments than I could reply to.  Of course, if I had that ability, I think I’d use it on all of those “Nigerian Princes” and “European Lotteries” that keep e-mailing me.

Thankfully, Akismet snags most of the spam comments.  Sadly, some slip through.  This means that spammy comments are visible on my blog until I take them down.  I think I need to find some WordPress plugins to help reduce my spam load.

What do you do to reduce spam comments?  Also, any guesses on how many spam comments this post will get?

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If Spam Came True

Posted by TechyDad on January 3, 2011 under Spam, Stories

While cleaning out my spam folder, I was reminded of a comic strip I had seen a decade ago.  It was labeled “If Spam Were True” and showed various characters acting out how it might look if those endless arrays of spam messages were actually truthful in nature and not attempts to scam you out of your cash.  (Side note:  If anyone actually remembers this comic strip and knows where I might find a copy, I’d love to hear it.  For the life of me, I can’t remember the strip’s name and haven’t been able to locate it for years.)

Anyway, I was thinking about this strip, and wondered what would happen if someone did build a device that made any spam that entered his inbox magically come true.  It might turn out something like the following.

==================================================================

The phone rang three times before a voice answered.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Adam?  Ted here.  I’ve got something I need you to take off of my hands.”

“What is it?”

“Well, you know all of those annoying spam e-mails that come in?”

“Yeah.  Man, do I hate those things.”

“Well I was playing around with some stuff and thought I stumbled on a way to make all spam disappear forever.”

“Wow!  You should patent that.  It’s a million dollar idea.”

“I don’t need a million dollars.  I need you to take this thing away from me.”

“Why would you want to get rid of it?  That thing’s worth a fortune.”

“I know.  There are just two problems.”

“What are they?”

“The first problem is that I can’t turn it off.  No matter what I do with it, it keep churning along doing it’s thing.  I even tried cutting the power cable but it’s still running.  Darned if I know how.”

“Ok, that’s weird.  Still, a Spam Stopper that needs no power?  Sounds even better to me.”

“That’s the other problem.  It doesn’t stop spam.  It makes it come true.”

“Makes it come true?”

“Yeah.  You know all of those International Lottery e-mails?  The ones that say you’ve won some huge prize from a lottery that everyone knows doesn’t really exist?”

“Yes?”

“Well, somehow my machine has turned those imaginary winnings into real dollars.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, I’m not.  I was suspicious when the first boxes full of cash began arriving, but they seem to be 100% legal tender.”

“Amazing.”

“I thought so too, at first.  Then the machine branched out into Nigerian spammers.”

“Those guys are worse than the phony lottery folks.”

“Except when they’re turned true.  Now I’m being showered with so much money, I don’t know what to do with it all.  I stopped counting at around $90 billion.”

“Okay, except for an accounting nightmare, I don’t see what the problem is.  You’ve got more money than you ever dreamed of.  I think a few tax or accounting headaches would be worth it.”

“It might have been, but it didn’t stop there.  You know those e-mails that claim to be from women who are just dying to meet you for illicit activities?”

“Uh-oh.”

“Yup.  You guessed it.  Suddenly hundreds of strange women began showing up at my doorstep throwing themselves at me.  My wife was already wondering what was up with the sudden influx of money but now she was convinced that I was cheating on her.  She left for her mother’s house three weeks ago, took the kids and I haven’t been able to contact them since.”

“But you didn’t actually *do* anything with these women, right?”

“Of course not.  Give me some credit.  Still, it’s getting draining saying ‘No’ to beautiful women three times per hour.  And since spam doesn’t respect night-time hours, these women show up at all hours of the day.  I haven’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in weeks.  Are you laughing?”

“Sorry, but I couldn’t help but chuckle over how you made having tons of money and beautiful woman fawning over you sound like such a chore.”

“Honestly, all I want is my simple life back.  I don’t want this infernal machine anymore.”

“Ok, ok.  I think I can take it off your hands.  I’m single, so there won’t be a complication with the women showing up.  When do you want to drop it off?”

“Um… Actually, I was hoping you could pick it up from me.  I can’t leave my apartment anymore.”

“Why not?  With every money e-mail spam adding to your bank account, I’d think you could transport it here in a private helicopter.”

“Yes, but you know all of those ‘add an inch’ spam e-mails?”

“Heh heh heh.  Yeah.  They came true too, right?  Wait a second.  Exactly, how many of them have come true so far?”

“28… Make that 29.”

“Um… Actually, I don’t think I’ll be able to help you Ted.  Maybe you could try Rick or Tony.  I just remembered that have something very urgent to take care of.”

“Please, Adam… You’ve got to help me.  I need to get rid of this before…”

Adam could hear a ding in the background and then another.  He hung up the phone as he heard Ted mumbling something about herbal viagra.  He felt bad for Ted.  He hated his overflowing spam folder, but decided that there are worse things in the world.  Those spam messages could be coming true!

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