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Legal recourse

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

John, iceman, others of my legal brethren on your side of the Pond:-

What recourse could there be in your jurisdiction against the kind of louse who has made almost 600 postings since arriving on CSN this morning for the first time under the moniker "shanghai" ? I've already flagged numerous of these posts, but obviously can't cover all of them, which I guess members on other forums are doing, each on their own.

This is evidently a dress wholesaler touting wares.  They've certainly shanghai'd CSN, with upwards of 200 bogus messages on the breast cancer forum alone which, for now, they've effectively destroyed, bringing up hundreds of ancient threads in arbitrary order and trashing the forum completely.

I would like to see this sort of scum getting jail sentences.

With the earnest endeavours the dev team is making to improve our CSN site, this sort of vandalism is utterly infuriating.

Can anything be done to punish such people?

 

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

At least 28 other forums have been infected on CSN and I wonder how many other sites are victims of this abuse.

RichardB63's picture
RichardB63
Posts: 56
Joined: Oct 2012

It would be nice to be able to stop them.

 

Joe_fh
Posts: 47
Joined: Aug 2012

Hang it up fellows, Building and maintaining interactive websites is my day job. Fighting SPAMmers and SCAMmers is darn near a speciality field. Those sort flow quickly from place to place using proxy addresses, and dead end email addresses. They make money from keyword exposure (not actual products) and consequently couldn't care less where they drop their pitches. It's very rare to even catch a real warm body much less level any punitive action against them. At work, we control them by mainly IP blocking and mass blocking of IP ranges of nations from which this trade is the most profitable. China, Russia and Korea are big players in that field as well as some African nations. Even if you can catch a warm body, it's quite difficult to bring any legal resolution against a guy in say deep Russia from England or America. A place like CSN is a prime target for these types since it is not required to be a member to read posts, therefore keyword counts are easy to score. Frankly, given that anyone can read here, I am surprised we don't have a bigger problem from these sleeze-balls.

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

CSN got on to it fast.  Joe, how do these guys receive payment for keyword exposure and who do you suppose are their typical customers?

Joe_fh
Posts: 47
Joined: Aug 2012

Indirectly we are Tex...

There is several things going on here, the most automated of them is keyword speculation. Are you familiar with the PPC (Pay per click) model in Internet advertising?

It works like this, Big programs such as Google adwords are driven by keyword popularity which has three basic metrics. One is impression (viewed), one is saturation (number of times a keyword is found by their crawlers), and the last of course is click throughs (people clicking on links of ads) - those 3 metrics combine to create a value for a keyword or key phrase. Legitimate companys then bid against each other for exposure position, and hence keyword clicks on the Search Engines.

Enter speculators, these guys buy huge blocks of low value keywords from the big programs like google, yahoo, bing, etc. and then resell those ad positions to these legitimate companies in competitive bidding. Up to this point all this is legitimate business.

There are thousands of speculator firms, some of them not so much on the up and up. The less reputable guys will do some backroom dealing to artifically inflate keyword competitiveness by paying low-lifes to raise the three metrics through various means, including keyword SPAMmers. As keyword exposure rises, so does competitive bidding from legitimate business thereby creating a profit margin from the speculator's original buy point. Speculators then, in turn use that profit to finance more enhancement to the keyword value.

So SPAMmers make money by moving the exposure needle on any given keyword or phrase and they take profits from these speculators who are notoriously famous for not asking how the keyword exposure rises. Of course these speculators will claim they will not abide by SPAMming, but there are virtually no safeguards in place to prevent it, so the low-lifes flock in with little to no chance of being caught. Keyword SPAMmers mainly work on the saturation metric via automated software.

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

Yes, Joe, I am familiar with the model but thanks for that excellent exposition of the way it all works.

I want to pick your brains a little further though.  As in any market there are ends to the chains of transactions - creators and customers - no matter how many middlemen (often of dubious function) may interpose themselves in that market.  Just as with the notorious toxic financial 'products', the viability of the intermediaries, whether they add some sort of value or are purely parasitic, is predicated on there being something of value AND a customer for it. 

Accordingly, please expand your "Indirectly we are".  With "shanghai" there would appear to be goods, in the way of fake watches and knock-offs of designer clothes (themselves the product of criminal activity) and prospective customers for them. The whole edifice depends on people buying those watches and dresses.  I would guess that the payoff in this instance would be pretty pitiable since very few members will have clicked on any links before CSN killed them in response to the flagging some of us immediately carried out.  Furthermore, very few here, inflamed as they woud be about the intrusion, would see fit to buy those counterfeit goods from such a source, even if they had been in the market for items like that.

Problems of policing the Web may be both insurmountable and undesirable but, just as Al Capone was brought down via taxation, there may well be indirect methods here for undermining this sort of invasive operation. Let's take the worst-case scenario - that the producers of the 'goods' are criminal outfits in what is, alas, now the most corrupt culture in the World: China. So, we accept that the producers are people of no conscience and the same goes for all of the intermediaries.  We must, then, look for sanctions to prevent the intended purchasers from supporting that operation. Aside from campaigns like 'Buy American', or whatever, there might be public information films etc that stigmatise this sort of operation, that advise against buying anything that doesn't have a traceable provenance, that warn that the goods are likely to be shoddy, or dangerous to children or damaging to health.  Maybe there could be embargoes on import of any goods where the provenance isn't readily verifiable.  Perhaps the chain could be broken by making it a criminal offence to be part of a chain which leads to the sort of unconscionable invasion we have here, of sites devoted to cancer support.  A few high profile prosecutions, of legitimate companies at the head of the chain, for keeping bad commercial company might be effective in destroying these transactions?

I'd welcome your thoughts on the matter.  Just as you say "indirectly we are", so it seems incumbent on us to protect ourselves by coming up with practicable solutions to the problem.

 

Joe_fh
Posts: 47
Joined: Aug 2012

Well Tex, those are loaded questions. My involvement in the industry is technical, so it's a bit above my pay grade to analyze the business realities that exist. But I guess I don't mind sharing my opinions on the matter - just take them for what they are one guy's opinion.

First I want to make clear, Keyword SPAMmers are not selling anything, and their goal in life is to enhance Keyword/Phrase visibility to the Search Engines. This is the saturation metric I referred to above. If a member clicks on one of those links, they are linking to a legal and usually legitimate affiliate who likely has no idea his affiliate code is being used in this manner. The Spammer doesn't make a penny from clicks or sales from these postings, he's playing a completely different game. There is also another game that is played with these sorts of SPAM links and that is the spreading of malware. I do not know if that is what you have here or not, I'd have to open a few in a protected environment and see. So for our purposes, I am going to assume they are merely Keyword SPAMmers, which are FAR more common.

When I said "Indirectly us", try not to take that so literally. I mean that in the context of common surfer habits. There are two basic realities that allow these kind of low-lifes to exists, they are:

  1. 90% of Internet net surfers will never go past the first or second page of search result in the search engines to find a product they are looking for. Less than 2% will ever travel past the 5th page in the results. On most search engines the default page given has 10 to 15 listings. This makes for an extremely short list of exposure for business to compete for.
  2. Given #1, if you are running an online business, you goal in life in terms of search engine advertising is to appear in the top 20 or 30 results or your business is lost in a sea of after pages that few will ever see. Since there is such finite exposure space, the game changes to unique keywords. Smart businesses will tag as many keywords that can possibly be related to what they are selling to have a better chance to appear in some search at the top 20 to 30.

Having said that, I have seen advertisers that would bid on keywords Potatos and Potatoes, because there is possible exposure in misspellings.

Now, let's make pretend you are a start-up selling a new hypothetical fishing gear line "Big Fat Floaties". Since you are start up, you have no reputation to bank on, so your key into the arena is limited to search engines and paid advertising. So you naturally get into the Keyword game for exposure. Your problem is, there is another 500 guys that also have a line into the new manufacture of "Big Fat Floaties". There begins the keyword bidding war, and the potential source of profits to speculators seeing a new product run. The sponsors want that bidding war to go as high as possible, so in comes the Keyword SPAMmers who increase the number of search engine detection’s that search engine crawlers find for "Big Fat Floaties" and variants. Now, you and your competitors see that exposure rising and knock yourselves out trying to outbid the other guys.

Notice what is happening here. You have legitimate business people whose only goal is to get their foot in the door, and low-lifes that are artificially inflating the keywords they are using to promote their business. The lowlifes have no direct stake in the game; they are working for less than reputable speculators.

So, there are the particulars, not sure how - from a business or economic stand point you might stop these guys. Big search engines have been fighting speculators for years. Google and most big search engines change algorithms even 6 month or so in an attempt to slow these guys down, but the speculators always adapt. The big search engines can not afford to refuse to sell blocks to speculators because that is a major chunk of their operating financing. So what do you do?

The only thing that seems to help is a good staff to stay on top of the Spammers. A couple of defensive measures include..

  • Do not have sites open to the public to read without registration. If non-registered public can not read a site, then the search engines also can not scan them. Spammers got no interest in posting on a site that won't increase visibility to the search engines. Such a site is simply not worth their effort. (Obviously not practical for a site like CSN)
  • Site administrators should involve themselves in reporting programs such as "Stop Forum Spam" and black lists. Code can be written that compares new registrations with already detected and reported spammers. It puts a big dent in them. I suspect CSN would probably already be involved, if not, they should be.
  • Code written to check geo-IP against email locations upon registration. Allowing free email accounts to register are always hard to manage until they do something wrong.
  • Finally quick response to posting that do happen, as you mentioned they are already on top of that?

Ultimately it boils down to a moderator staff that is engaged and watching their net properties.

It feels kinda funny talking about this on a forum such as this. Hope we're not driving the reader nuts with it.

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

Joe,  thanks for that splendid reply.  I do have a semblance of an understanding of the issues you've addressed (I'm sitting in a room with scores of books on computer s/w etc -  we have a family software company, my Wife being a highly qualified software architect and business analyst and our Daughter also a BA, working for our (UK) dept. of health, in the area of drugs and clinical trials etc).

No-one here is obliged to read anyone else's post and I imagine very few here read my frequently verbose messages so we shouldn't be concerned about debating this topic in this forum -everyone else can just pass it by.

Am I right in thinking that the spamming would dry up if nobody bought the goods that are at the end of the chain of transactions?  It seems to me that the problem in dealing with these blighters is that it can't be tackled by an IT approach, as you've clearly recognised.  I don't think I was taking your "indirectly us" too literally -  I took it as referring to all of us, qua consumers. 

To ensure that I've understood you properly, could we go further than the "Big Flat Floaties" and tease out the workings of the set-up that precipitated this dialogue? If we refer to the entity that shanghai'd the CSN as X, perhaps you could lay out the roles of the other players in this, diagramatically, if that proves helpful? Let's assume (as I think we can agree was so in this attack) that the object of the exercise was to make money, on the part of all involved (other than us as prospective purchasers) and that it wasn't some sort of malware propagating endeavour or terrorist-motivated onslaught. 

I don't see how keyword stuffing or search engine optimisation or any kind of cyber-squatting come into play here.  It seems to me the set-up could be as simple as X being involved in a concern in Sinoville that wants to flog counterfeit goods via the Web.  X locates open sites  like CSN which it considers promising (demographic mostly American, cancer sufferers, generally older, therefore putatively wealthy and in large numbers) and invades the forums with bogus messages comprising meaningless text larded with hot links which it reckons curious members will click on and might be tempted to buy from.  The fulfilment centre will probably be untraceable from the online shop.  Using Occam's Razor, we can reduce this to supposing there is no fulfilment centre and there are no goods.  X has simply plagiarised other people's images of goods and hopes a proportion of readers will be gulled into sending money to some untraceable destination(s).

If sufficient arrangements could be made to make such an enterprise not worth the candle, then that sort of activity would dry up.

Perhaps I'm failing to understand what's going on,  in which event I'll be happy to be educated as necessary.

Joe_fh
Posts: 47
Joined: Aug 2012

I think you are still trying to fixate on a product, or product line. You are also trying to give credit to Keyword SPAMmers postings as an intelligent entity. Both are incorrect.

In terms of product, these guys who invaded here were working on the textile industry. 6 months ago they were in sporting goods, 6 months from now, perhaps weight loss. Perhaps all at the same time, but these particular guys on CSN were working clothing. It may be counterfeit products, maybe not, but in the scope of the SPAMming only, it really doesn't matter.

In terms of the SPAMmers themselves, their job consists of finding eligible open sites, once found registering at said open site, and then entering that data into automated software which does the actual postings. The SPAMmers themselves beat feet out of here just after registration looking for the next likely place to invade and watching the stats. Their software will tell them if the board administrators closed their account. They may or may not be back to open another. (Quick note here: Often SPAMmers will open many accounts initially, and enter them all into the program. The purpose being that when admin close one account, the software automatically rolls to the next account until it too is closed, and the next, then the next. I have seen them open 50 accounts in one sitting. Since these guys usually operate on a class C IP range, potentially up to 256 accounts. One per IP since admins will normally ban not only the account, but the IP as well. A common mistake admins make is to delete an account, which only allows these scum bags to open another.)

If I were king of the planet, determined to eliminate Keyword SPAMmers, I would focus my magic wand firepower on the speculators. I would regulate them and force them to open books to regulators. License them for compliance and force the big search engines to only sell blocks to licensed speculator firms. Because the link between Speculators and Keyword SPAMmers can not be denied. (Proving it is another issue) That is where the money from Keyword SPAMming is made.

I'd have to be a pretty darned powerful king though because ...

  • Capitalists will be screaming free enterprise.
  • Conservatives will be screaming government over-reaches.
  • Nations will be screaming jurisdiction.
  • Rogue nations will simply not give a rat's ass.
  • Big search engines will not want to cooperate due to revenues.
  • Speculators will do everything in their power to side step the regulations, probably via private financing.
  • There will no doubt be consumer group accusations of corruption in the form of pay to play licensing.

It will get ugly; there is no doubt in my mind. The legal and international complications will make it more or less impossible. In short, you're not going to generate the kind of cooperation you need to fix the problem, because in the scope of things it is merely an annoyance rather than a pressing world-wide calamity that MUST be addressed.

So I guess what I am saying here is that in the absence of a "perfect solution", they only thing we have is a technical solution. The problem and limitations of a technical solution last only as long as the next work around these guys dream up that us security geeks have to counter, yet again.

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

Joe, I do get all of that - perhaps it would be wiser if I said 'most' of that!  Maybe you could clear it up fully for me by explaining how "shanghai", or any other party you see as involved made a financial gain out of the invasion of CSN and who footed the bill.  How analagous do you see the operation as being to day-traders and commodity speculators?

Is it your position that we, here, are in no way involved in this game, being merely 'irrelevant' colateral damage in a game where the low lifes are gaining solely at the expense of legitimate businesses paying the search engines for advertising for non-organic search results?  The low lifes are manipulating the market by changing the frequency of occurrence of particular words/phrases?  Sorry to be so obtuse - perhaps the new medications are slowing my wits!

Joe_fh
Posts: 47
Joined: Aug 2012

Bingo!, By George I think he’s got it. Your last paragraph summed up what I apparently wasn’t articulating clearly enough. CSN and tens of thousands of open interactive forums on the Internet are simply along for the ride. Chances are high that the SPAMmers don’t even know what CSN is about, the forum was merely another opportunity.

Now, as to your first paragraph question….

The Short answer: The profit paid to Keyword SPAMmers come from the speculators. I do not believe anyone who works in this industry can deny this with a straight face.

Expanding on that

Advertising is expensive to your small business start-ups. If you are a large company with deep pockets, then yes, you can likely compete with speculators for space on the big search engine listings. But the vast majority of start-ups do not enjoy that kind of capital. Therefore they buy space from speculators who have already reserved large blocks of space from the big SEs.

The speculators then sell to small business through competitive bidding for keywords.

This competition goes along like any other auction like environment. The profits that speculators make is the difference between their “buy point” commitment to the big search engines, and the proceeds resulting from this competitive bidding that business does.

When less than virtuous speculators want to raise the heat on the bidding war, they turn to armies of guys willing to do whatever it takes to make a buck. These are your Keyword SPAMmers. They turn up the heat in the bidding war between legitimate businesses by artificially inflating the metrics in keyword valuation, specifically Keyword saturation.

(Keyword saturation is the metric that measure the number of times any given keyword appears on web pages that the Big Search Engines scan as part of their normal crawling practices)

From the business’s point of view, their products are becoming a more popular search term to potential customers (as evidenced by the keyword saturation metric) so these guys become more interested in upping their bids to control certain keyword placements within the speculator’s holdings, thereby escalating the bidding war.

This of course elevates the speculator’s profit margin. The SPAMmers get paid a percentage from those extra profits, or even the primary profits. Who knows but the people making the deals? More than likely, dirty speculators see artificial keyword inflation as a capital investment.


 

Personally, I believe all speculators are dirty to some degree, but I hold the minority opinion among my peers. Most believe the majority of speculators are straight shooters, that there are just a few bad apples among them. Who can tell for sure? There is zero regulation in that industry so either side of that opinion is, at best, speculation in its own right.

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

Joe, thanks again.

I realise I may be a bit slow on the uptake but if I justify my depth of concern perhaps you will indulge me yet further.

I'm keen to analyse how this evil might be combated.  I've observed these attacks becoming both more frequent and more damaging on CSN.  I feel sure most members don't realise how serious it is.  Because of the way this planet rotates, I see more of the problem than the huge majority of members - as you've remarked, the vast bulk of these assaults come from China, Russia, Korea and parts of Africa and I'm in Scotland. The consequence is that they frequently post  and people like me get to see their invasions while most members (who are based in the States) are still asleep.  I, and some others, flag numerous messages and the CSN team get rid of them without most people ever being aware of these invasions.  Occasionally I see someone has flagged a message before I have read it.  Of course I can't tell how many may have been flagged and removed by CSN even before I log on.  So the problem is bigger than most realise.

So, to my question.  Could you please spell it out for me in the actual case we recently encountered?  Let's assume that no-one on CSN clicked on a hot link and then tried to buy items (that were probably fictitious anyway).  Thus we were only victims to the extent of the invasion temporarily screwing up CSN (and consuming resources that could have been spent on the "upgrade" of the site!).

We were merely "along for the ride" as you aptly described it.  The purpose of the game was just for "shanghai" to get paid by an unscrupulous speculator(s) for keyword stuffing.  Is that correct?  At that point, no search engines were involved but the effect would have been, in theory at least, that "shanghai" had moved the needle in a way that would favour the speculator in future searches in the big search engines, presumably in advertised goods/services, rather than re organic search results?

This is a relatively new get-rich-quick game and many speculators will doubtless get their fingers burnt and pull out.  Given the vast amount of info out there on the Web, I find it implausible that even the most persistent of keyword spammers could really change the saturation metrics to the extent required to benefit the speculators.  Is there any proof of this effect? Back in the days (a very long time ago) when I was interested in literary stylistics, which led me into psycholinguistics research, I used to make use of the old Thorndike-Lorge Word Frequency lists.  Such data would now be drawn from immense textual corpora, by electronic means.  I would have thought that "shanghai"'s use of text and hot links to "cocktail dresses" and "Breitling lookalikes"  or suchlike would be just spoonfuls in the ocean. 

In our case, I'm assuming that viewings and click-throughs would be of lesser consequence - do analyses of the effects vindicate that assumption (just for our present case)?

Are there samplings at points in time that show the speculators that the crooks they are paying have 'earnt' their rewards? I'm guessing that the speculators are being gullible and are being taken for a ride by the keyword stuffers.  If so, this particular form of info-crime might dry up when the scales fall from the eyes of the speculators.

Does the success of these ventures depend on phrases and syntax to change the odds of distorting the metrics?

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

Joe, if you're still visiting, any answers to, perhaps, my last couple of paras above?  We were subject to another spam assault last night by "

modnjnbn".

I made a copy of the posting before CSN removed it and I could pmail same to you in the hope that you might find time to use it to illustrate the matters I've asked you about - I'm keen to learn, if I can sit at your feet!

Joe_fh
Posts: 47
Joined: Aug 2012

Hey Tex,

Haven't been ignoring you, I have been out of state the last several weeks on assignment and missed your posts. Should be back in February. I'll hit you up when I get in.

 

- Joe

Texas_wedge's picture
Texas_wedge
Posts: 2807
Joined: Nov 2011

Thanks Joe - look forward to it. 

There has been another serious attack and CSN is bothered by it.  They've read our discussion and had already investigated/tried most of the ideas you suggested but were glad to have seen your analysis.   The problem doesn't look like going away in the short term and they share my view on the unacceptability of the more draconian IT solutions.   Your further expert input will doubtless be appreciated, the more so since coping with this problem is absorbing valuable developers' time that could be spent on furthering the upgrade.

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