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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spam Botnets

Ars Technica has a small piece on email spam, based on a Symantec report. Symantec is one of the major virus/malware protection companies. According to the report, botnets (networks of computers) account for over 80% of all spam. People continue clicking through to disreputable suppliers of suspicious products, so the spammers likewise continue.

Not mentioned in the article is comment spam. This is spam posted on public forums, such as the Flash Fiction Online Forum. This type of spam may promote a "product," but much of the spam has what seems like an irrational number of often-undecipherable links. These spammers are simply trying to get as many links back to their websites of interest to improve their ranking on search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN. As a generalization (the search engines are more-and-more sophisticated and opaque in their analyses), the more links there are to a web site, the closer to the top of a keyword search they'll land. Google and others try to punish such behavior via analysis, but the art of spam and the art of spam counter-measures continue.

From FFO's experience, much of the forum comment spam is done by botnets, too. Someone teaches the botnet to create accounts and post comments automatically. That's why, occasionally, you'll see the "Latest Member" with a suspicious if not appalling name. These are soon banned from the forum and their spam, if it manages to make it through, is soon removed.

The problem with botnets is that they don't tire. They keep plugging away, attempting to create accounts and post comment spam...sometimes for months after their IP address or email address has been banned. I've seen some forums so inundated with spam that the forum is useless (100-to-1 spam to legitimate post or worse). Fortunately, FFO staffers check often so that the forum remains a pleasant place.

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