Thursday, November 22, 2012

Spammers stumped me

As I’ve mentioned many times, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing war with spammers ever since I turned off word verification for leaving a comment. I’ve been in a quandary, caught between making it easy to leave a comment, and making things easier for me. The two, it seems, are mutually exclusive.

And now it’s looking like the spammers have worn me down. But they also have me stumped.

I turned off the email notifications so that I wouldn’t get dozens of emails a day telling me that I have to “moderate” comments in the spam queue. However, the only way to do that was to turn off ALL email notifications—even when I get a legitimate comment. Worse, spam comments are making it through and getting posted, and I sometimes don’t even notice for up to a day.

I also have dozens of spam comments to delete from the queue each day—sometimes hundreds. This is getting really old.

But in the middle of all that aggravation is something that has me truly stumped: Spammers often use the lower case omega (last letter of the Greek alphabet, in the picture above) in place of the letter “w”, and I have absolutely no idea why (yes, I Googled it). I’ve heard of websites (and, I presume, sometimes comments) hiding links in single characters, but there are no links here, just the characters.

In a twist, today I received a spam comment in which several characters were non-standard, including the omega. A picture of that comment is below, along with a close up of part of the first line to make it easier to see the weird bits, such as, the “v” in “Every”, the “w” in weekend, along with the “K” in that same word (compare with the "K" in "quick").

Maybe I only noticed this in the first place because paying attention to typography is part of my profession, but since I noticed it, it seems to me it’s quite common, with maybe ten percent of the spam comments I receive using one or more of these substituted characters. And I still have no idea why spammers do it.

I never received such spam comments when I had word verification turned on—nor any of the other problems with spam comments that I’ve complained about. So, this noble experiment in free commenting is drawing to a close. At some point in the next couple months I’ll almost certainly turn word verification back on, and all these problems will be gone—for me.

But I’ll still wonder what the heck those spammers are up to.

Update: One of my Twitter Pals, @BXGD, Tweeted me about this and said: "If you post many comments on a computerized system, switching characters on each one, the system can't recognize them as the same." I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. Changing one or more characters means that spammers can post the identical spam comment on many posts on the same blog (and that certainly happens on my sites), or on many sites, and spam filters would treat each one as a different comment. None of which gets around the bigger issue of why on earth they even bother when most of us have systems to filter out spam.


Roger Owen Green said...

I think the omega is because some systems can block specific words or phrases, but the insertion of letters from other alphabets screw that up. i've seen it on viagra spam.

April said...

I like to think that there is a very special circle of hell reserved just for spammers.

Sandra said...

I'm with April.

We've seen a sudden surge in form spam recently by-passing the form (with a captcha). It's tiresome because now we have to spend our own time (and therefore money) on a strategy to combat it.

Don't they have anything better to do with their time?

But what I don't get is why they do it? Surely people don't actually do anything with their lame promo links?????

not a spammer

Arthur Schenck said...

Sigh. The second comment on this post was, with no real irony, spam. When I deleted it, there were also two spam comments in the moderation queue (they were posted to old posts, or they would have gotten through, too), and 20 others were in the spam queue. Quite day in Spamland, obviously.

I've added an update to the post, a plausible explanation for why they do it.

Roger: Yes, I've seen numbers used in place of letters in such emails. Your explanation is related to the update I posted, except you're talking about filters than block such comments, and the other explanation is that, basically, it could fool spam filters (and, they spammers think, get each comment seen as unique by search engine bots).

April: Agreed! Of course, I don't actually believe in hell, but it I did, it would be filled with Spammers. And people who own companies that send robocalls to people. Actually, that's the same thing, really.

Sandra: I reckon that the computer genius who manages to finally solve the spam problem will be made King of the World by unanimous vote. In the meantime, the explanation I've seen the most frequently (and I've been reading about this a LOT lately…) is that spammer think their "comments" will improve their Google Juice with so many links to their scam websites coming from legitimate sites (which is why so many mavens I've read tell people to be vigilant about killing spam whenever it shows up). But it's a bloody waste of time!

Graveetas said...

I love Spam especially Musubi (Spam Sushi) . What do you think of Internet Trolls?

Arthur Schenck said...

Trolls live under bridges. Internet trolls should be chained there. ;-)

Arthur Schenck said...

…and today a spam comment got posted to THIS post. Sigh.