Saturday, 24 October 2009

Link bombing spam ring discovered

For not to many weeks ago I wrote about how spammers are killing me and my project
After posting the blog post I deliberately shut down the site to see what happened, hoping the spammers would leave for good. After two weeks down time I put the site online again but without the SMTP server connection so that new users would not get the e-mail confirmation during the signing up process.

Guess what. Suspicious users still registered with the same rate even if they could not log in. This continued for 3 weeks. After three weeks, I turned the SMTP server back on and in an hour or two the spam started trickling in again.

So here's the things I have tried and did not work:
  • E-mail confirmation.
  • Captcha.
  • Wrote rigorously that the site is for web enthusiasts only.
  • Wrote that spam would be deleted without notice.
  • Added a human only answerable question to the sign up form. ('Are you human?')
  • Change the URL's of the pages most used by spammers to post spam.
Another thing I tried was to add a question where the answer is commonly known to the target group. The question I added was; 'Who invented the web?'. This actually had some effect. Spam went down by about 50% after adding this question to the sign up page. It seems that most spammers don't know the answer to this question and moves on to other sites to do their spamming.

One thing I have learned is to be very careful not to deploy pages that let users enter html so users can create url's in free text. Once this gets out amongst the spam ring you will get a hard time fighting them off even if you remove the ability to add hyperlinks.

Looking at the IP addresses of about 100 the spammers these are the typical ISP's:
  • Mango Teleservices, Bangladesh
  • Philippine Long Distance Telephone, Manila, Philippines
  • Digitel Mobile Philippines Inc., Philippines
  • National Internet Backbone, India
  • FibreNet Communications Ltd.Dhaka Bangladesh
  • Smart Broadband Incorporated, Sorsogon Philippines
  • TATA Communications formerly VSNL is Leading ISP, Ahmadabad, India
  • Smart Broadband Incorporated, Quezon City, Philippines
  • Bharti Broadband, Delhi, India
  • VietNam Post and Telecom Corporation, Vinh, Vietnam
  • Telefonica del Peru, Peru
  • Grameenphone is the largest telecommunication Orga, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • NIB (National Internet Backbone), Sivakasi, India
  • FASTER CZ spol. s r.o., Brno, Czech Republic
  • Makedonski Telekom, Skopje, Macedonia
  • Vietel Corporation, Hue, Vietnam
  • Telekom Malaysia Berhad, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • PTCL Triple Play Project, Islamabad, Pakistan
  • SIA Lattelekom, Priekule, Latvia
  • Sify Limited, Calcutta, India
  • SATNET, Quito, Ecuador
The list shows that most of the spammers come from poor countries or countries with high unemployment rates.

Looking further at the activities carried out and the spam they add my hunch is that there is a link bombing spam ring. Since most automated robots don't get past captcha's and other blockers, organized spam cartels will outsource spamming to poor people in developing countries.

One might think that these spammers are the scum of the earth.. wait scum of the web. But if we look at things from a higher perspective we will probably find that the digital-divide, the socio-technical and global networked economics of the world and the immature stage in the evolution of the web is what really has caused this cancerous spam situation.

So fighting the spammers is like slapping around poor thieves caught in their act.
Bashing up the thief will only make him sink deeper into the black hole his already in. Getting rid of one spammer only leaves room for another spammer. Instead we should focus on prevention and helping people out of their miserable situation. How do we do that? Fair trade is a good solution. Another good solution is to work on innovative R&D projects that will evolve the web.