Feeds

Interview with a link spammer

It's nothing personal...

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Website security in corporate America

The legal question

But what about the legal question? Here's where Sam distances himself, very definitely, from email spammers - particularly those who use tailored viruses to turn broadband-linked PCs into spam generators. "I'm using badly-configured proxy servers. I believe that's different from those which are hacked. But I speak to the top seven or eight link spammers, and they don't use bot PCs. People who do blog spamming won't be doing email spamming."

Using proxy servers, Sam argues, is legal. (There seems to be some confirmation of this: you're not altering the machine's configuration, which would be illegal under the Computer Misuse Act, you're just using it to do something.) Sending viruses and using bots is not. "As well as being illegal, how much email spam gets through? The big link spammers, and me, we don't want to end up sharing a cell with a 300-pound guy called 'Bubba'. The moral argument, of whether this is the 'right' thing to do, is for the individual," says Sam. "The legal question is another matter."

In fact, the law would probably favour Sam. It's hard to argue the difference between a person using a computer to post a comment, and a person using a computer to use a computer to post a comment. Will the initiative by Google, Yahoo and MSN, to honour "don't follow" links defeat Sam and his ilk? "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. It won't work because most blogs and forms are set up with the best intentions, but when people find hard graft has to go into it they're left to rot. To use this, they'll all have to be updated. The majority won't be. And there'll just be trackback spamming."

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."

For Sam, every day brings more challenges. Not just from the angry bloggers; nor only from the search engines coming up with new algorithms and HTTP tags. There's all the other link spammers too. "It's like a 1500-metre race. You get a little bit ahead but then the others catch up," says Sam. But he's confident he'll stay in what is primly called the "search engine optimisation" business for a while yet.

Why? Because the demand exists. "The reality is that people purchase Viagra, they require porn, they gamble online. When people do that, there's money being made." And if this sounds suspiciously like an "ends justify means" argument to you - it does to us too. But Sam doesn't mind. He's just adding a few thousand more blogs to his list and readying the next spam run. Nothing personal. ®

Related stories

Germany gets tough with spammers
Google's No-Google tag blesses the Balkanized web
Spam punishment doesn't fit the crime

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
Home Depot: 56 million bank cards pwned by malware in our tills
That's about 50 per cent bigger than the Target tills mega-hack
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Critical Adobe Reader and Acrobat patches FINALLY make it out
Eight vulns healed, including XSS and DoS paths
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Blood-crazed Microsoft axes Trustworthy Computing Group
Security be not a dirty word, me Satya. But crevice, bigod...
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.