Chad Perrin: SOB

26 January 2007

weblog whys/wherefores

Filed under: Geek,Metalog — apotheon @ 05:15

My last two entries here at SOB have focused on the downside of weblogging — most particularly, on spam comments and how good their propagators are getting at slipping them past both software and wetware filters. There’s an upside to weblogs, too, though. It’s time to focus on that a bit.

Darren Barefoot, a partner at a company heavily involved in online marketing called Capulet Communications, is interested in why people “blog”. Toward the end of learning something about that, he has created a survey that asks some interesting and, at times, penetrating questions about that very subject: the Why Do You Blog? survey. You might win something if you participate, and I might win something for linking to it, but I bring it up because it’s an interesting socio-psychological question. Answering the questions there made me take a moment to think through my experiences with weblogs and why I have engaged in such a pursuit in the first place.

My first really formalized weblogging took place at LiveJournal, largely at the behest of friends using LJ who seemed to want me to join in the fun. At the time, however, I was maintaining a sort of de facto weblog of my own that I pieced together one static HTML page at a time — the original SOB, with my original use of the backronym online. At the time, I claimed it meant “Stimulus Origo Brunonian”, a sort of recursive bit of pretentious frippery that roughly translated as “All perceptions originate in the infectious, afflicting nature of perceptions.” While the message in that phrase was an interesting one in its implications, at least to me, my real interest in using the SOB backronym was simply that I liked the conflation of its presentation with the traditional acronym for “Son Of a Bitch”. Such is my self-deprecating sense of humor.

After a couple years, give or take, of off-and-on involvement in LJ communities related to politics, computers, and similarly interesting (to me) subjects of discussion, I analyzed the relative popularity of various posts I’d made to my LJ there and came to the conclusion that the most popular stuff was the least thoughtful, briefest, and least involved of them. As such, I decided to spin off the more in-depth, thoughtful, and (to me) interesting stuff here at SOB, and keep the light-hearted, more superficial stuff there. In the end, I lost interest in maintaining the LJ after that, and found myself focusing my weblogging attention here instead. I haven’t posted to the LJ account in a very long time, and have even ceased any kind of regular checking of my LJ “friends list” some months ago. As far as weblogging is concerned, SOB is where I hang my heart hat.

This current introspective examination of weblogging, and my participation in Darren Barefoot’s survey, is mostly Sterling‘s fault, thanks to his own weblog entry on the subject at Chip’s Quips, titled Why blogs? The conversation going on in comments there is somewhat interesting, and his main post itself is even more so — not just because of his thought-provoking (if only glancingly stated) discussion of the subject, but also because of the links and their relevance to the subject matter.

Go ahead and take the survey. You might win an iPod Shuffle (and even if you don’t want/need one, you might know someone who does), and perhaps more importantly it might give you something interesting to ponder for a while. Don’t feel rushed to finish it, of course: make sure you start on it when you don’t have to close your browser again for a while, in case you find you want to really think about your answers before committing them.

While you’re at it, consider telling me what comes to mind in comments here, or in your own weblogs — but if you present what you find elsewhere, please let me know so that I can read about it. Linking from another weblog that has pingback and/or trackback capability will suffice.

real humans behind the spam

Filed under: Geek,Metalog — apotheon @ 04:33

Apparently, there are real humans behind the spam comments about Tramadol that I’m getting here at SOB. My last entry in this weblog, titled weblog comment spammers are getting better, indicated that weblog comment spam is getting more devious in its ability to fool not only filters but human beings. In a comment by assaf of Labnotes fame, it was suggested that this particular attack might have been targeted and perpetrated by a real human being rather than by an automated script. Considering the sheer number of incoming comments, however, and the number of different email addresses and names employed in the flood of spam comments, I must believe that while a human being created the message it was delivered by some kind of automated script.

Today’s episode in the saga of comment spam includes a series of duplicate comments scattered through older posts, each with a different source, containing the following text:

I got the same tramadol attack… well, not the same, because it was only about 20 comments instead of 90, and i t have any filtering set up, and I just deleted them one at a time… hmm.. the only thing really in common was that it was about tramadol… what filter do you have set up that caught them all?

This one looks even more like a genuine, legitimate comment than the last, especially considering that it looks like a direct response to the most recent SOB entry. It appeared, however, in moderation for a number of different entries other than the relevant entry, and the manner of its posting makes it immediately suspicious to the perceptive site administrator. For the moment, it looks like the comment spammers are winning the war against the filter designers. Hopefully, that will change at some point in the near future. I have some ideas about how that could be helped along, and when I have the time to do so I’ll set about formalizing and clarifying them so that they can be put to good use — either by someone already working on filtering technology, or by myself in the form of a new spam filtering plugin for WordPress. We’ll see how the interest strikes me when I have time to think about it.

Meanwhile, in Randy Morin’s Destroy All Malware weblog, his most recent update as of this posting links simultaneously to my immediately previous entry in SOB and to Bruce Schneier’s security weblog — specifically to a brief linkpost titled Dogbert’s Password Recovery Service for Morons. If you add any single weblog to your feed (or reading list, or email subscriptions, or whatever) related to security, Bruce Schneier’s is the one to choose: he may well be the single most well known and respected independent security expert in the world, and with good reason.

Special thanks are due Sterling for pointing out the post at Destroy All Malware.

25 January 2007

weblog comment spammers are getting better

Filed under: Cognition,Geek,Metalog — apotheon @ 11:26

Today, in my moderation queue for SOB, I found something I hadn’t seen before. It’s comment spam with the following text:

I always have terrible trouble with comment-related plugins that require me to put some line in the comment loop; I can never seem to find the right spot. Can anyone tell me where I should put the php line in my comments loop? I haven not modified anything much, and I would be very grateful. Thanks!

I wasn’t sure at first it was comment spam, even with the suspicious URL used to linkify the username of the “person” posting it (it said something about trmadol, which is awfully close to tramadol, a common subject of weblog comment spam). Any illusions I may have had that it was a legitimate, non-spammy comment, however, were blown away when I noticed that there were about thirty comments to various SOB entries, all featuring exactly the same text, all pointing at the same URL, each of them supposedly from a different “person” (with a different email address). It’s kinda worrisome that it made me pause for a moment and wonder if it was for real, though.

If even a human is beginning to have trouble sorting it out, I imagine automatic spam filters will have a lot of trouble, too. Thus, in addition to the problem of false positives that has caused me to swear off spam filters for the time being, filters will also increasingly fail to catch “true” positives.

The end result of this will, I suspect, not be that spamming businesses get more money. It will, instead, be that non-spamming web publishers of various sorts will be more short-lived, as they won’t be able to cope with the massive influx of spam unless they have legions of employees dedicated to the task of vetting incoming messages by hand. That, or spam filters will become more strict, and as a result we’ll start seeing about 50% of legitimate communications gobbled up as false positives by the filters.

. . . and yet, my Google PageRank is still higher than that of all these friggin’ spammer sites. I guess it would be too much to ask that they learn from their mistakes, and put themselves out of our misery.

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