At War Against Spam

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Monster Attacking, Ottawa, Spring 2011

You wouldn’t believe how much spam this blog is getting. Every time I log in and go to my WordPress dashboard, I do a double-take at the number: “Akismet has protected your site from 74,191 spam comments already.”

I’ve been using WordPress for four years. That’s 18,547 spams per year and about 50 spams a day (disclaimer: these divisions were done using a calculator. I can’t do math in my head). Wow. I wish I were as popular with actual people.

Fortunately, I use Akismet, one of the many anti-spam plugins. It comes by default with any WordPress installation and it’s pretty efficient blocking most suspicious comments and adding them to my spam queue.

I also set some discussion parameters: if a comment has more than two links, it has to be approved manually (a large number of links in a comment is usually sign of a spam). I blocked some terms following a particularly vicious Russian spam attack, such as “.ru”. I moderate all authors who don’t have a previously approved comment. Finally, I check the spam queue regularly to make sure there is no “ham” in my “spam”.

A good way to spot spam is to check the commenter’s ID and website. It’s amazing the number of “replica handbag” or “X escort services” who feel they have something to say!

Some spams are easy to spot: they typically mention how well-endowed I could be with the help of magic pills. It’s just too bad I’m a woman, don’t you think? Spammers are also big (no pun intended) on various medical pills, trendy products or porn movies. I guess the ideal audience for spammers would be a man with er… potency issues, watching a X-rated movie on his mobile device. But against, wrong audience with this blog.

Others spammy comments kind of make sense but are completely off the mark:

Hey! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 3gs! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the excellent work!

I love the ones that sound like fortune-cookies (or Master Yoda on drug):

Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favourite justification appeared to be on the internet the easiest thing to remember of. I say to you, I definitely get irked even as folks consider issues that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top well defined out the whole thing without having side effect, folks can take a signal. Will probably be back to get more. Thank you

There are the mysterious ones that you can only decipher if you took ancient Polish and CIA code training in school:

7KM0t4 [url=http://drfrtpywhizs.com/]drfrtpywhizs[/url], [link=http://oydzvgfjfbgy.com/]oydzvgfjfbgy[/link]

Finally, there is trackback spam, where the spammer sends trackback pings to your site that direct viewers to a totally unrelated URL:

Escorts Girl…

[…]we like to honor other sites on the web, even if they aren’t related to us, by linking to them. Below are some sites worth checking out[…]…

Gee, thanks, indeed we are not related—it’s not because I’m French that I’m an escort girl, dirty mind!

Even though some spams make me smile, I’m fighting against them every day.

I recently read an interesting point of view on Four Dumb Ways to Fight Comment Spam. Overall, I agree with the writer. I don’t want to force readers to solve a captcha in order to leave a comment because I personally hate that. Some captcha are hard to decipher, they are a waste of time and I don’t want to treat all commenters as potential spammers. I also want to avoid compulsory registration—why make things complicated? Closing comments on old articles is also an option but a lot of my articles are for reference (such as the How to… Immigrate To Canada series) and continually receive interesting feedback and questions.

So I’m down to fighting spam with two weapons, Akismet and my own judgement.

How about you? Do you get a lot of spam? How do you fight it?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

36 Comments

  1. I don’t get a lot of spam, but between Akismet and Tan Tan Noodles plugin (which allows an unlimited number of words, though now that I think of it, it’s similar to the comment blacklist in wordpress settings). I moderate all first comments and don’t allow multiple links. Very little spam actually gets through, but once in awhile I get hit all at once.

    There’s an amusing site called Spam Comment, where the blogger takes spam that he and others have received and turns it into a humorous post. It’s good for a laugh, especially since it’s not on my own blog.

    • Oh, I have to check out the website! There is a lot of potential in some spam messages, I find some hilarious.

      I have to check out the Tan Tan Noodles plugin, but I’m pretty happy with Akismet, it blocks most of the spam.

  2. Hi Zhu! I’ve been blogging for 6 years and have 152,677 spam comments in Akismet, so that’s higher than you (:P 😛 :P) but then I have 2 blogs, hehehe. I have noticed trends and ups and downs a lot, right now it is quite popular to have genuine sounding but irrelevant comments like the ones you posted above. Before that there was the trackback era, all those “splogs” connecting to your blog.

    But hey, I agree that I don’t want my users to do math or decipher heliography to prove they are human. I also just leave it to Akismet and my own judgement. cheers 🙂

    • Wow, that’s a lot of spam! What keywords do you use to trigger such spam love? 😉

      These genuine comments threw me off at first until I learned to check the url associated with them. It’s always spammy!

  3. This is a very informative post for me since I am planning on launching my blog in the coming months. My past two blogs did not receive a lot of spam but I did not have them for a long time.
    I used Disquss in the last one for comments and I really liked it. I moderated all of the comments, but then again, it was a new blog and I did not have many readers. I guess it is different once you have a lot of blog readers and many comments on it.

    • I’ve heard good things about Disqus as well and I like thei login area, it’s very straigthforward, especially when using a Gravatar.

      Spam comes and goes and doesn’t always mean something in terms of popularity. I’m not sure how spam bots work but some days I barely get any spam and others I’m just swamped. But Akismet block it so it doesn’t worry me too much.

  4. I wonder if the decision to call unwanted electronic messages “spam” affected sales of the food product in any way.

    According to Wiki, the term “spam” did in fact come from the canned meat product as it appeared in a Monty Python comedy sketch, in which every item on a cafe’s menu included spam. The low-grade fodder was named spam as a shortened form of “spiced ham”.

  5. Hey Zhu,

    To fight spam, I have turned on “word verification” on Blogger, right when I started (I had some problems with spammers and Blogger ended up by blocking my blog for 36 hours – it was unnerving).
    Still, some used to pass by word verification; so Blogger built a spammer block mechanism that can be managed in the comment section of the blog’s dashboard.

    I wish I hadn’t to impose “word verification” on my readers, but I must protect my page.

    Speaking of spam comments: I have had one telling me the wonders of Viagra; but the most common ones are the Gucci bags ads *nodding*.

    Cheers

  6. You know, I never looked at my Akismet stats until I read your post. I don’t look at my spam queue, either, although maybe I should — for the false positives.

    According to Akismet stats that go back to November 2006 (I think I used a different Akismet account before that), it blocked a total of 805,115 total spam comments. The worst month was July 2008 with 96,135 spams!

    Nowadays there are the occasional fake comments with innocent-looking URLs. I check them, though, because the comments are written by actual people (versus the rest which are all generated by bots) and they point to “content farms” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_farm]. How you can usually tell without looking at the URL is the email address doesn’t match the commenter’s name, although in very rare cases they do. They use a single link to get past the 2-link flag.

    • I was expected a huge figure given that you’ve been blogging for a very long time but boy… 800,000! Some months see a huge spam attack, not sure why. It’s a mystery to me too.

      I don’t get to many innocent-looking url, most are fairly spammy in the first place. But I’ll keep an eye on those.

  7. Hi Zhu.

    I’m not expert in anti-spam for web sites, but I can think one easy way to avoid this spam.

    Probably there must be a plugin that uses “Captcha” This way the comments for your posts would pass a “human response filter”.

    It could be one extra step for the person who wants to make a comment, but a great filter and less spam for you.

    Take a look about Captcha on Wikipedia for details, then look for a plugin, there must be one for WordPress

    Good luck!
    Nelson Diaz

    • I don’t really like captcha because it places a burden on readers. I don’t like solving captcha myself, some are very hard to decipher and they are a waste of time.

      For now, Akismet does a good job of blocking the spam, all I have to do is go through it once in a while to make sure there are no legit comments caught in it (rarely happens) and empty the spam folder.

  8. Spams are really annoying. I received dozens of spams emails almost like everyday. I don’t have clue to fight them but only delete them everyday. Their topic range from selling magic pills 🙂 to fedex notification. They are all annoyed. I remembered I used to received letters asking me to help that person to get out of prison and then reward me with cash! That was crazy. lol

    • I get a lot of spam by email to! Oh yes, these FedEx notifications too, and UPS. I’ve never opened them… I wonder what the catch is. Virus or phishing?

  9. Haha, I laughed at the spam descriptions in your spam typology. I guess it’s a good thing that you still can deal with it in a humorous way!

  10. One thing I’ve noticed is that the spam that says “Your blog is good and interesting. Keep up the good work”, have Website links that point to spam. I was once confused if that entry was spam or not.

    • It confused me at first too but since it’s a very generic sentence and doesn’t add anything to the discussion, I flagged it as spam.

  11. I’m getting lots of spam as well. Not as many as you mention, but lots… I would say that, on average, I’m getting 10 comments per day. It became more evident after my blog was hacked back in February. Luckily, Blogger has been taking good care of it… so far.

  12. Most people get tons of spam, it’s really annoying! The worst thing though going on right now though are those sites infested with adware that claim to be your anti-virus software.

    You click ANYWHERE and your computer goes kablooey!

    It happened to me recently when I was browsing science sites. I knew it was a fake, but like I said, they are a bitch to get rid of!

    • Oh I hear you, I crashed my computer like that recently. I was on a website (a news website, nothing weird or spammy) and a pop-up opened. Couldn’t get rid of it, and eventually Firefox crashed.

  13. I hate spam and I do combat it by moderation after 1 wk on a post. Those posts after that have to have moderation and if it’s not a content minded comment, I’ll delete it as well. I hate advertisers or people who want you advertise their website and just comment that way. As well, you would be surprised how much spam is lost when you ask for a capta. I noticed a lot more spam on wordpress for some reason too. Used to get it on my other blogs way too much…

    Good luck on getting the spam down!

    • I don’t like captcha but that’s just me. That said, the moderation after one week option looks interesting… I’m going to look into it. That you for your input!

  14. My blog isn’t even popular and I get tons of junk comments from e-mails ending in *.ru and also containing the word “insurance” – so annoying!

  15. I must say, the number of spam I receive has reduced a lot lately. I don’t know how though.
    I am also very popular with Russian spammers.
    The links that send to another websites drive me really crazy. I have seen some of my posts on other sites full of typos. I don’t really understand how that works though…

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