Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/05/14/myspace_spam_blizzard/

MySpace users snowed in by new blizzard of spam

Buried brunettes beg for help

By Dan Goodin

Posted in Security, 14th May 2007 20:31 GMT

Analysis In the beginning, MySpace was a place to meet new friends and get to know old ones even better by browsing their journals, photos and network of chums.

But soon, Viagra marketers, pedophiles and hackers latched onto MySpace and rendered it as ineffective as most other net-based public forums.

It came to resemble one of the many usenet discussion groups teetering on collapse from all the find-love-now messages - only it had pink borders and piped crappy R&B divas pining for lost love.

Even in the noise, some MySpace denizens still found ways to build communities. MySpace Groups proved a popular way for like-minded people from all over the world to exchange photos, videos and comments on topics related to all kinds of subjects, from html to art and hip hop. But now even many of these bastions of civility have been overrun with saboteurs who seem intent on completely shutting down the forums. In many cases, they have won.

Case in point: Kristina Bartley, who in early 2005 started the MySpace group Brunettes Kick Ass. For a while, it was a vibrant place for people to gather to discuss all kinds of stuff, be it word associations, haiku games or their favorite booze. Then it was hit by a blizzard of spam that Bartley has never successfully been able to dig out from underneath. One day a spammer posted 15 pages worth of crap. MySpace eventually canceled the spammer's account and also deleted the text contained in the mass messages, but unfortunately, the postings remained in the group's index. That meant members had to sift through 15 pages of blank postings before finding legit ones.

A few days later, a new spammer left 500 pages worth of postings. Bartley eventually converted the group to private, so people would have to receive her explicit permission before being able to post messages. But even this has done nothing to stem the viral wave of crap, which in many cases includes postings of some of the vilest porn known to man. To make matters worse, the vandals have figured out a way to ban her most vocal supporters from accessing the group, so they are unable to participate in any meaningful way.

"A few months ago there would be a post a minute in this group and now it's sometimes one every hour," Bartley says. "It's sad to see something I've worked on so hard fall apart in the hands of a spammer.. and no help from MySpace."

David Taylor, who helps administer the MySpace Group World Artist Network, tells a similar tale. With more than 211,000 members, WAN says it's the largest single MySpace group. But recently, WAN underwent a relentless attack that has brought the group to its knees. As recently as this weekend, members browsing the forum had to wade through 27 pages of blank entries before finding genuine content. Several members including Taylor are unable to post. The miscreants responsible have the ability to ban members and pin and unpin topics, effectively allowing them to wrest control of the group away from its rightful owners.

"They're really malicious," Taylor says.

As a senior information security specialist for the University of Pennsylvania, it's fair to say Taylor has a tad more technical sophistication than the typical MySpace user. But even with his credentials, he has been unable to convince MySpace security people to deploy several measures he says would go a long way to preventing the kinds of attacks his group is being crippled by.

They include anti-flood technology that would require members posting more than a set number of comments in a given period (for instance more than 10 posts by the same user in a few minutes) to complete a captcha dialogue. That would eliminate the use of third-party scripts he suspects the saboteurs are using to spray an unending stream of scat porn and other postings all over his group.

He's also calling for features that would give group admins more control, such as the ability to appoint moderators and the addition of buttons to the main thread page that would allow group leaders to ban and block the trouble makers. (Taylor's entire wish list is posted here.)

A quick search suggests that other MySpace groups, including President Bush is an Asshole, Support Gay Marriages and Daily Bible Verse for MySpace may also be under attack. Taylor reckons most of the steps needed to stop this nonsense would take little time to implement because they involve technologies MySpace already has in place.

In recent months, MySpace has taken steps to reclaim its site from the forces of darkness. In January and March respectively, it sued Scott Richter and Sanford Wallace for allegedly spamming MySpace users. (The site has also added features designed to protect its youngest users from predatory adults, although we're still not convinced the measures are effective.)

But so far, it appears MySpace is more concerned about the smooth operation of the machine that feeds banner ads to it's 177m registered users than it is in ensuring they can surf the site unmolested by trouble makers. As Taylor puts it: "I don't think they understand the impact this causes on the user community. I'm actually not very optimistic. Perhaps this last week may change that." ®