Why do Spammers do this?

This isn’t a metaphysical question about good and evil. I’m really trying to understand what the motivation or payoff is.

Over the last week or so I have been experimenting with BuddyPress as a way of adding social networking features to SMUG. I’ve been impressed with the functionality. Now that I’ve learned some of what I was seeking to discover through the experiment, I have reverted back to the previous theme and disabled BuddyPress.

One of the settings I enabled in BuddyPress allowed visitors to sign up for an account here. They just had to fill out a form, like this (click any of the images to enlarge):

And then they would see a message which said they would be getting an email message with a link to confirm their registration:

When they clicked the link in the email, they would return to the site and see this confirmation:

Today I got a message from a helpful SMUGgle, Michelle Murray, who said she had gotten an “internal server error” message when trying to visit a curriculum post…and that the problem had happened a few times. So I decided to investigate. To cut to the chase, here’s what I discovered:

A whole bunch of new “users” whose names were eerily similar. The extent of the problem is shown in this closeup of the user totals, which you don’t need to click to see clearly:

After I had deleted 50 of them, here is the closeup of the user type breakdown:

In other words, my blog had essentially been the target of a Denial of Service attack by a spam bot creating nearly 6,400 accounts.

As I examined one of the profiles, it seemed odd that the person behind the spam would try this, because it wasn’t immediately apparent what benefit they would derive. Here’s an example of what they had entered for each fake user:

And when you look at the tail end of the Website field, it is just the link to the member profile on SMUG, not some other Web page they wanted to give Google juice.

It seems that the goal is to somehow help a site devoted to offering six-pack abs to its customers (clearly something I could use), but it isn’t (or wasn’t) clear to me how this spamming strategy would drive traffic to that site. Other spam email domains pointed to searsuckersuit, realestatequicksolutions and comfortersonsalenow, all with .coms appended.

On further reflection, it seems perhaps one way this scheme could work would be if the spammer accounts could be used to bypass the Akismet comment filtering. In that way they could include links back to their sites within comments.

Or maybe if my default for new users was to make them Authors instead of Subscribers, it would give the spammers a chance to create new posts with lots of links to their sites:

What do you think? Based on what you see above, what would be the benefit to spammers in creating 6,000+ accounts on a site, without any links back other than in the user email domain, which isn’t published?

Was this just a first step in a plan to eventually unleash a torrent of new posts or comments?

By the way, for the time being I have turned comment moderation on, so I’m not just relying on Akismet. So when you share your thoughts, it may take a little bit for me to moderate and approve the comment.

Meanwhile, does anyone have a recommendation for mass deleting 6,300 spam subscribers in WordPress?

Otherwise, it looks like I’ll be selecting 50 at a click and deleting about 126 times. Should be an hour or so of mindless fun.

Blogging 118: Trackbacks

As I said in Blogging 117, blogs enable conversations, and one key way those happen is through comments. And comments you leave on other blogs have the additional benefit, if you comment thoughtfully, of encouraging readers of those blogs (and perhaps the authors) to visit your blog and see what you have to say.

Trackbacks are a special kind of comment that require special mention and explanation, because they involve some mysterious lingo that isn’t intuitive.

In essence, a Trackback is a comment on someone else’s blog post that you leave on your own blog. It’s sort of a mega-comment.

Here’s how it works.

Continue reading “Blogging 118: Trackbacks”

Blogging 117: Attracting Blog Visitors through Comments

Blogs are a conversational medium. As we learned in Blogging 101, a blog is essentially a newspaper. Two major factors that set blogs apart are:

  1. Anyone can be a publisher, and
  2. Within reason, every letter to the editor is published.

I say “within reason” because some people go out and leave meaningless or off-topic comments as a way of driving traffic to their sites. Thankfully, as a wordpress.com site, SMUG is protected against comment spam automatically by Akismet. But still, sometimes one sneaks through, with an innocuous comment like, “Great site. Keep up the good work” that includes a link to a Russian porn site. When that happens, I mark the comment as spam, which deletes the comment and makes it more likely Akismet will prevent that person from infecting other wordpress blogs.

But comment spam isn’t the main point of this post. This post is about how you can legitimately engage in discussions through comments on other related blogs, and as a natural byproduct attract visitors to what you’ve written.

If you’re commenting just to attract blog traffic through that single link, people will sniff it out and you won’t get much out of it. But if you’re contributing meaningfully to the conversation, you not only will get some visitors via the link in your comment (as described below); you also make it likely that the blog’s author will take notice of your blog and possibly link to it in a future post.

Continue reading “Blogging 117: Attracting Blog Visitors through Comments”

Blogging 103: Commenting on Blogs

In one sense, a blog is just a Web site.

A Web site that, because of easy-to-use and free software like WordPress, anyone can publish. You could decide to use WordPress.com as your content-management system, to produce your own one-way Web site. All you would have to do is turn off the comments feature, either for the whole site or for individual posts. In this way, you would have an easy Web publishing system.

But what sets blogs apart from traditional Web sites (Can you believe that? I used the word “traditional” to describe something that first started in 1994!) is the ability to invite comments and create conversations.

That’s what makes blogs interesting.

Yet most people who read blogs never participate in the discussion by leaving a comment. Forrester research indicates that about 33 percent of Internet users are “Spectators” who read blogs, listen to podcasts or watch YouTube videos without leaving any comments, and 52 percent of users are “Inactives” who don’t even read blogs. (I think the inactives number is overstated because, as I said earlier, a blog is just a Web site. People are going to blogs without even knowing it.)

In keeping with our SMUG goal of getting people to stretch into new areas of social media, in Blogging 103 I hope to help some of those Inactives and Spectators move up the Forrester Ladder of Participation into the Critics category.

Just complete the assignment below, and you’ll climb a rung or two.


Click the “Comments” link at the bottom of this post. It looks something like this if no one has commented yet:

Or if some people have commented, it will have a number in front of the word “Comments” – like this:

Then you’ll see the full post reload, showing any comments from others, and at the bottom you will have a chance to add yours.

I’ll bet you can figure out how to fill in that comment form.

In a future post, I’ll show you how to participate most effectively, but for now, it’s important to just take that first step and make a comment.

You’ll note that I have set this blog to accept comments without being approved by me. In other words, I’m not “moderating” comments in advance. So you’ll get the immediate gratification of seeing your comment show up right away after you submit it, provided you’re a real human being. I use Akismet to weed out the automated comment spam that unsavory characters use to promote their herbal Viagra alternatives and the like. More on that in a future post, too.

But I also know that one reason why people don’t comment on blogs is because they don’t know exactly what to say. So I’ll set you up with a couple of questions to prime the pump, just to make it easier for you to dive in.

  1. Is this your first time commenting on a blog? If so, what has been the main barrier that keeps you from commenting?
  2. If you do comment sometimes, what are the factors that cause you to join the conversation?
  3. For extra credit, what social media topics are most interesting to you? What questions about social media would you like to see answered and discussed further?

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