Feeds

Interview with a link spammer

It's nothing personal...

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The essential guide to IT transformation

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

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.