Saturday, 17 July 2010

Bloggers: UNITE Against Annoying Spam and Hackers!

We blog for many reasons. I began as a way of keeping my family in touch with what my kiddies were up to (pre-facebook), and now that the kiddies have reached the age where they don't appreciate being embarrassed on the internet I blog for myself. Over three years I've made real friends, been virtually hugged when times were hard, and been told that it's okay, even admirable! if I give my children ice cream for supper.

Clearly, the blogging community is something worth defending. Bloggers are generally interested in helping one another, sharing information. You can find great advice, recipes, humour, moral support and technical tips on every topic under the sun, given freely. Bloggers ask nothing. And serious journalism now recognizes bloggers, or 'Citizen Journalists', as an important part of the news media.

But recently, we seem to be under attack much more. Comment Spam and Hackers used to be an occasional annoyance... now, they are an everyday one. For non-techies like myself, it can be confusing and expensive, and takes all of the enjoyment out of writing and sharing. I've been trying to get to the bottom of the recent barrage of spam comments I've been noticing on my favourite blogs. Within hours a post can attract spam.

Using a Comment Moderation form, where commenters have to enter a word or answer a question in order to comment, stops most automatic spam. Recently, however, spammers are using humans, paying them a pittance, and getting them to enter comments manually.

Comment Spam is a tool which companies use to increase their internet rating.

If your website was visited, say, a thousand times last month because you have a following of readers who keep coming back, it means that if someone searches a term used in your writing you will be higher up in the search list than a site which had just a few visitors. And if you linked to any sites, or any sites linked to you, that also improves your search rating, and theirs. Apparently, lots of links give a better rating. Of course, if the link says 'Viagra!' this will not help a blogger's rating much, unless they are hoping to be found by someone searching for Viagra.

So, If anyone leaves a comment on your popular blog, you have their link right there in your comments. And the smart people in Spamland have figured out that if they can leave six zillion comments saying "Nice Blog! :)" their rating is artificially improved, even if no-one actually clicks over. The fact that their comment may be in Chinese matters not at all. They've got teams of folks earning 3 cents or whatever per comment, that they post on listed blogs.

Remember that Google keeps an eye on blogs, and can shut us down for content. If a porn site, for instance, leaves links on our blog, we can be flagged as 'Adult' and shut down. And if you're shut down on Google, that means blog, email, photos... this could be inconvenient or disastrous, depending on how much you count on your account.

Malware is another huge problem. This week, two of the blogs I regularly visit have been infected. On one, I could not log in because my computer said WARNING in big red letters... hooray for mega security! The other blogger has said on facebook that she's infected, so I'm not even going there! Malware can get onto your site or computer by being downloaded by you. If you get ANY popup which says "Oh, no, you need our program! Click here!" It is probably malware. These programs prey on our fears. Don't download ANY program you don't recognize! But malware can infect your computer or site just by visiting an infected site.

Once there's malware on your computer, or on your site, it can affect all of your visitors and friends. You don't want this to happen, obviously. Malware can sell your email address and your personal information including credit card numbers. Facebook appears to be susceptible to malware too.

So WHAT can we do?

We have to be smart. Don't assume that links are okay. Just clicking on a link can lead to infection. Do NOT click on a commenter's link unless you can read their comment. If the comment appears at all iffy, delete it. If it says nothing but "Nice Blog!" you can think "Thank you, nice person" and delete. Don't feel bad. If what they wanted was to tell you they like your blog, they will not mind if you've deleted their comment to be sure of your security. Read emails carefully. I've had job offer emails where I thought "Huh?". It's best, if you are worried, to assume the worst. Don't reply or click over before doing your own internet search of the company's name. Obviously if there is no company name, just delete.

Get security: McAfee, TrendMicro, AdAware, RegCure, Norton... Ask a techy friend which is best. You may need one for antivirus and one for registry stuff, but don't download a whole bunch of them because they often won't work together.

Recently, I changed my comment settings so that NO comment will be posted unless it is checked by me. This is okay for me, because I don't get dozens of comments. My phone is set up now to beep if I have an email, and all I have to do is click 'Publish'. It is slightly annoying to have to keep my phone nearby: I am one of those people who often go out without my phone, and don't like being constantly available. But I really appreciate my wise and witty commenters, who don't generally say anything unless they have something to say, you know? Many hilarious conversations have happened in my comments sections and friends have been made. Why should I allow spammers to invite themselves to the party, just to make their own questionable sites popular?

Comment moderation has NOT stopped spammers. They still comment, daily, but they will never be published. I hope that soon we will have more security and anti-spam options in our comment settings.

On a related note: Forwarded Emails! Please, NEVER forward emails without deleting all previous email addresses. If you get an email that says something terrible will happen if you don't forward it, why would you want to expose your friends to that? Just delete. Really. I always do, and so far that threatened bus has not run me over, and nice things happen to me all the time. For other forwards, use BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) whenever possible, which would make your friends' and acquaintances' addresses invisible. When you forward an email which contains a list of previous email addresses, you expose those addresses to potential spam and infection.

I am NO EXPERT, so I'm hoping that anyone who has an idea will leave a helpful comment! And if you know anyone at Google, tell them we said "Help!"

4 comments:

Audubon Ron said...

Nice Blog! WAIT, it’s me. Nan, put.the.delete.button.down.

I don’t get spam. I guess I’m not anyone’s radar yet, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The rest is good advice. I really don’t like going through all the verification hoops but in some cases they go too far. If it’s too much trouble word verifying and so on. Blogsplot is not too bad but some others are awful.

I also don’t mind signing up for the anti-spam army, but only if I can get a gun and a gun belt compete with a canteen and a Swiss Army knife. :)

Nan Sheppard said...

Geeeze, my SECOND comment was spam!

•´.¸¸.•¨¯`♥.Trish.♥´¯¨•.¸¸.´• said...

Hey ....I won't say it
Great post though.
I clicked over from infamous Kelley MB2...I hate the chinese spammers I get them every day now....................................
I so agree about BCC and the emails that insist you pass them on in 8 min to 8 friends or else. I stop reading the minute I get that far and delete.

I've been reluctant to put comment moderation back on.It stops comments.
I just have it on posts older than a week.

The Mother said...

I finally fixed my comment spam problem with a combo cocktail of THREE different sieves (most of it happened, though, because Wordpress was being wonky and didn't notify me of a spam comment, but put it up anyway. Weird).

As for the malware--us Apple users get to feel superior, yet again.