The Register interviewed a link spammer who revealed some of his methods and motivation. The bottom line — spammers can make up to seven figure incomes from some simple computer code. Some key points:
For even a semi-competent programmer, writing programs that will link-spam vulnerable websites and blogs is pretty easy. All you need is a list of blogs – which again, even a semi-competent programmer will be able to pull together (by searching for sites with keywords such as “WordPress”, “Movable Type” and “Blogger”) a huge list of blogs to hit.
And people like Sam are much more than competent. “You could be aiming at 20,000 or 100,000 blogs. Any sensible spammer will be looking to spam not for quality [of site] but quantity of links.” When a new blog format appears, it can take less than ten minutes to work out how to comment spam it. Write a couple of hundred lines of terminal script, and the spam can begin. But you can’t just set your PC to start doing that. It’ll get spotted by your ISP, and shut down; or the IP address of your machine will be blocked forver by the targeted blogs.
So Sam, like other link spammers, uses the thousands of ‘open proxies’ on the net. These are machines which, by accident (read: clueless sysadmins) or design (read: clueless managers) are set up so that anyone, anywhere, can access another website through them. Usually intended for internal use, so a company only needs one machine facing the net, they’re actually hard to lock down completely.
By this Sam means spammers setting up their own blogs, and referencing posts on zillions of blogs, which will then incestuously point back to the spammer, whose profile is thus raised. So what does put a link spammer off? It’s those trusty friends, captchas – test humans are meant to be able to do but computers can’t, like reading distorted images of letters. “Even user authentication can be automated.” (Unix’s curl command is so wonderfully flexible.)
“The hardest form to spam is that which requires manual authentication such as captchas. Or those where you have to reply to an email, click on a link in it; though that can be automated too. Those where you have to register and click on links, they’re hard as well. And if you change the folder names where things usually reside, that’s a challenge, because you just gather lists of installations’ folder names.”
“I don’t think it’ll have much effect in the short, medium or long term. The search engines caused the problem” – we didn’t quite follow this bit of logic, but Sam continued – “and they’re doing this to placate the community.
After all the “nowfollow” heralding, Sam pushes it to the side…niiiice, Sam, niiiiice.
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