Stopping the spammers & sploggers

Spam is the scourge of many a web site. GardenClickers is no different and we’ve been making quite a bit of effort behind the scenes to try and make sure that we’re not a victim. Spam, for those that don’t know, is when advertising and links get posted on a web site that is unsolicited and completely unrelated to the overall site content. It isn’t people that do it, although they set the wheels in motion. ‘Bots’ are the culprit. Bots are very clever bits of software that trawl the internet looking for sites like GardenClickers. The reason they look for sites like ours is that our site is built on very common software called WordPress and Buddypress. There are millions of sites that use WordPress and to a lesser extent, Buddypress. The people that program the bots know how these websites work and the code behind them and they use this to try and gain access and post the spam. Sploggers are what the bots posing as legitimate users are called.

So, what can we do about it?

The first thing, although you might not remember when you registered, is a Captcha. These can often be faintly annoying. We deliberately kept the one on GardenClickers quite simple.

Gardenclickers Captcha example

These are very handy as they do stop many fake registration attempts. However, some of the bots are more sophisticated and can actually read these Captchas, put the right answer in the box and get themselves registered.

Our second line of defence is a cool piece of currently free software called WangGuard. Unless they change their policy, it should stay free for us. What WangGuard does is compare the username and email address of all registrations against a database of known sploggers. If it gets a hit, it does not allow the registration. The image below might surprise you a little. It shows how many splogger attempts we’ve had over the past week.

Recent spam registration attempts blocked

It’s quite an interesting thing to keep an eye on. Some days we get hammered, other days not so much.

Sometimes, despite these safeguards, some sploggers will make it through. A little bruised and bloodied from our defences but ready to make GardenClickers a less nice place to be. You might notice the tiny little green bars on the last image, ‘Sploggers Reported’. These are those hardy souls that have made it through only to fall victim to a couple of button clicks from VegVamp or I. This is where you come in. Our third line of defence is our members. For those watching the new member registrations, you might see some really strange names registering from time to time. These are most likely the sploggers although we do have a few strange named members of our own. Let a mod know and we’ll take steps to investigate and have them removed if need be. Gonewest has let us know about a couple. She has clearly missed her calling in life, should be in the CID. Everytime we remove a splogger that makes it through, the WangGuard database is updated so not only are we maintaining and improving our own environment, we’re also helping to do this for other sites and vice versa. If you see a new user that looks dodgy, let us know.

That’s about it for now. Hope I didn’t put you all to sleep. :)

22 Responses

  1. Certainly not, Duncan :) All the members from the previous gc site will recall how it was bombarded with unwanted spam once moderation ceased.
    Thanks for your continued good work :D

  2. gonewest says:

    Thank you for promoting me to CID, that means I can go plain-clothes now. :D

    I only spotted them because I like to see when new members have registered, if they are one of our not so long-lost friends from the Dear Departed (as it has come to be known) who has finally found us. Then I realised that one or two new members’ names looked a bit odd. Rather than whack up a public note which could offend a genuine new member who prefers to use a randomised-looking name, I just sent a message to VV and Duncan who “have their ways” of finding out and chucking out if necessary.

    I think I have become a little aware from seeing things trying to get into my system at my old work, also although my husband has set up quite good security on our machines still once or twice we’ll get a questionable email. And then seeing some of those things that came on the old GC, they all had weird member names. I’m afraid I don’t have the skills to do anything about it, but it does help to just have a bit of an awareness.

    As far as once I’ve spotted a possibly dodgy new member goes, other than informing our illustrious leaders, I completely ignore them. I don’t send them any kind of message saying go away as I sometimes used to see on the old site. That might be just what these things need to get going on wrecking our site. The minute they get any kind of response they start firing things all over the site. I know this from sad experience. A few months ago when I received an unexpected email without a subject heading from a normally trusted contact. Like a fool I opened it to find it was spam, then what it did was send the same to every contact in my address book, then horror of horrors, just as I began to send the first apologies to my friends my whole email account was closed down. Since my husband and I share the email account I couldn’t even ask him to send apologies from a separate account. Then I had to go through a security process to get our account back up and running which involved setting a new password, which I did inform ‘Im Indoors, but he is a notorious password forgetter, try too many times-er, and get us locked out-er, so it took a couple of false starts to get us properly going again.

    Since we all recognise the value of being in contact, and were so badly affected by the demise of the old site, the last thing I want is for that to happen again just because I ignored something when I could log a quick request for Those Who Know to check it out. Plus, Those Who Know have put in so much work to get us up an running in the first place it would be a shame for it to be lost for the sake of a quick enquiry.

  3. Beanstew says:

    One Who Doesn’t Know found that article really interesting, and not written in the usual dense technospeak that makes such things usually impenetrable to ordinary people. Now that we are all geared up to be more observant and proactive, I’d better point out that although I may be a pain in the neck to some, Beanstew is a genuine username, and I am not a splogger.

  4. bizzylizzy says:

    to a computer thicko that i understood :D

  5. gonewest says:

    You may be reassured to know that I consider Beanstew as an original name, nothing like a randomised, or even worse, a dodgy name. I may have Gonewest geographically and very likely bodily, but hopefully me brain is still on the ball.

  6. Star says:

    Think I found one today………..Karen it dealing with it.

  7. Star says:

    Yes I was suspicious………….but when I saw a link on his/her comment I knew.

  8. Snapdragon66 says:

    A big thank you to all those who keep this site clean and enjoyable for us all to use. It is so easy to take things for granted and not appreciate or value the hard work this entails so thank you also for your clear and precise explanation. :-)

  9. karenp says:

    well i found it easy to understand as normally i have to read again a few times for it to sink in :D
    so well done you :)

  10. ANDY B says:

    Many thanks for the heads up , and easy to understand breakdown , of what otherwise , would have bee double dutch to myself . Not certain , that i would recognise a spammer , or splogger , if one was stood next to me in the garden centre , but you have certainly heightened my degree of awareness greatly . After all the help you gave me , when i was struggling to even get on-line , i will do my best to be vigilant , and feed back any concerns that i have .

  11. VegVamp says:

    Don’t think they have noticed yet Duncan! ;)

  12. Hayley says:

    Very clear explanation Duncan, saw one today and then it was gone! Thanks to Star and Karen :D

  13. cradleymike says:

    Must admit I had not been looking for trouble so to speak, although I am well aware of some of the tricks that can be used to take down a website. Keep up the good work everyone!

  14. gertie says:

    That is fascinating and I am very sorry I didn’t read it before!!
    Thank you…..Oh, and I asked a question of a strange “name” in the chat section earlier, where I hadn’t ventured up until now. …..I wonder…….

  15. VegVamp says:

    Hi Anne, if you are wondering about a possible spammer please just PM or email Duncan or me and we’ll check it. Don’t want people named in case it offends a genuine member. ;)

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