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December 16, 2004

Spamming Stephan Zielinski
Posted by Teresa at 08:47 AM *

If you want to see some unsettling comment spam, go to Google and type in [“stephan zielinski” “make me maintain AIX].

Stephan is one of my authors. His first novel, Bad Magic, just came out, so we’re collecting the initial wave of reviews. But this past week, when I Googled on his name to see if any more reviews had accumulated, I turned up a lot of strange hits.

Backstory: At some point in the distant past, Stephan wrote and published the line, “Beat me. Whip me. Make me maintain AIX. Somebody liked it well enough to include it in a LINUX quote file. More recently, when the whole comment spam thing got started, one of the spammers grabbed that quote, complete with attribution, and used it as the ostensible text of hundreds of spammed comments that were actually come-ons for Celebrex, Cialis, Levitra, Lipitor, Propecia, Soma, Tramadol, Viagra, Vioxx, Xanax, Zyban, and hot casino action. That’s creepy, to have your name used as spam.

The sites where this has happened are also creepy in their own right. The spam was posted indiscriminately. Here are some of the places it wound up:
Re: outdoor ornaments Tonic: “Meterosexuals”
ComidaDeMama: IS MY BLOG READING#1
papalarge: The Last Limb
Scuttlebutt: Checked exceptions
Re: Manuals/Service books
Alien Jesus Collective: SARS mortality rates keep going up
UDP VIPER
Re: prduction of tea
chromeGraphics::blosxom
caricature: パンドラの匣/太宰治
mattw.fn_blog()
Open Source Software News:
FreeLists / ewatch-devel / [ewatch-devel]
Spitting Image: Minor Atrocities of the 20th Century
Inside The Mind of Naked Jay - THIS ALMOST MAKES ME GLAD I’M
MySQL Lists: maxdb: Case sensitive attributes and table names
SpeedLight: Eheti vendÔŅĹgeink
A Grown Woman: Happy Birthday!
Re: Used Text Book for Level l or ll
Re: looking for bare land in Oregon or Washinton, must have a running creek and owner willing to finance
mdcm5014: the electrician from hell
570Bars.com: Anthony’s Home Port (Shilshole) (#43)
Classics Network Forums — The responsibilities of being human
Scuttlebutt: Checked Exceptions
Into the Wind: Kite Forum: Re: Frequency of repairs?
The only thing they have in common is ill-maintained comment threads. Some of them have been hit repeatedly. I suspect that if you don’t clean up your spam, they send you more because they know it’ll stay up.

When you click through to some of these sites, there’s no human interaction going on at all, just one comment spam after another after another. It’s like being in an abandoned house that vandals have been using as a garbage dump. There’s a good example here—practically a museum of the stuff, close to 500 separate spams, with a combined wordcount equal to a full-length novel.

The site’s a weblog called The Tough Democrat. It hasn’t been updated since April 2004, when its proprietor announced his “…switch from a well-paying but boring job to a lean but fantastic gig that takes an enormous amount of creative energy.” Near as I can tell, every post in his archives, June 2003 through April 2004, has a comment thread consisting of hundreds and hundreds of toxic comment spams. Lord knows how many abandoned weblogs out there are in the same condition.

Google’s spiders periodically come along and note the links, which is why the rest of us get hit with this stuff. I’m starting to regard unmaintained comment areas as the online equivalent of letting old automobile tires lie around in your back yard, collecting stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.

Comments on Spamming Stephan Zielinski:
#1 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2004, 12:39 PM:

I run a blog for a PBEM RPG I'm in, and it uses a not-too-common software package, and it's not linked to from a whole lot of places...but I still delete comment spam about once a month or so.

These bastards are persistent, and it's hard to imagine there's not an easier way they could be making money...

#2 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2004, 12:40 PM:

There's a whole field of anthropology waiting to get created here.

Cyberanthropology. Just imagine the google based studies, the mind numbing statistics, the boring white papers, and the amount of academic rancor it could generate.

#3 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2004, 01:29 PM:

I've got an old political blog that I haven't posted to in a year. It's got an outdated version of MT and no anti-spam tech.

I recently went back to look at it with an eye toward harvesting the posts into a backup archive before closing it down. Every post had dozens to hundreds of comment spams.

Stagnant water where mosquitoes breed, indeed. Yug.

#4 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2004, 01:32 PM:

Update: my defunct blog has 110 total posts... and 13,830 total comments. :(

#5 ::: Socar ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2004, 02:07 PM:

Blimey--I got that very comment-spam several times just recently--except, of course, I've got my journal set up so that I've got to approve comments before they appear in public. Thus, it never got as far as Google. If it had, poor Mr. Zielinski would've had is name permanently attached to a post about my giant, carnivorous rat.

#6 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2004, 03:40 PM:

I wonder to what extent google is working on handling this sort of problem. (Which reminds me, I have to finish writing up some ideas I've had and send them to a friend there. The basic idea is that the graph-theoretic topology of comment spam and other gaming attempts differs from that of ordinary popularity in a way that can be calculated.)

#7 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 12:56 AM:

Glad to know BAD MAGIC is out. I may have to beg for someone to get me this, as we can't afford books for the near future. (Man, that's weird, doing what I do for a living....)

#8 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 05:42 AM:

The spam attack I had yesterday included quotes from various people. They were not quotes I'd heard before.

"Iím starting to regard unmaintained comment areas as the online equivalent of letting old automobile tires lie around in your back yard, collecting stagnant water where mosquitoes breed."

I'd expound on the analogy, to say that it's like allowing other people to hold junk yard sales on your property, for free.
Or maybe more specifically, it's like allowing drug dealers and pornography peddlers to place billboards in your yard.

And I'm always reminded of Adam Kalsey's statement:
In the war on spam if you are not for us; if you choose to look the other way and allow spammers to use your site; if you feel that keeping your site free from spam is too much trouble ó you are against us.

I too have wondered what Google does, or thinks it should or shouldn't do, to combat the spam. After all, it's google-ranking that apparently motivates comment spam. But I haven't heard anything about this, exactly.

#9 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 08:33 AM:

I'm reminded of a comment by Cory Doctorow.

He noted that, on 9/11, most legitimate, non-newsgathering use of the Internet came to a halt. The only legitimate uses the Internet was being put to (at least in the U.S.) were hitting news sites, or news blogs, or trying to contact friends and family in New York.

But the spambots and other attack software, as well as the defensive software, was all running automatically.

So that's what the world would look like if some mysterious, superhuman force caused human beings to be whisked away instantaneously. Hundreds or thousands of years from now, aliens would land on Earth, and find the Internet running on autopilot, spam and viruses being distributed over the Internet, some of it being blocked by firewalls and other defensive software, others, not. Spambots would be attacking weblogs, and Google would be indexing it all.

#10 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 08:43 AM:

Mitch Wagner said:
So that's what the world would look like if some mysterious, superhuman force caused human beings to be whisked away instantaneously. Hundreds or thousands of years from now, aliens would land on Earth, and find the Internet running on autopilot, spam and viruses being distributed over the Internet, some of it being blocked by firewalls and other defensive software, others, not. Spambots would be attacking weblogs, and Google would be indexing it all.

If you decide to write that book, please let me know.

#11 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 08:44 AM:

haha - I like the dark humour...
But I don't think it would last beyond a week.
From what I know the internet has to be maintained by humans. I mean, not the content, but the actual servers. Which are powered by electricity & whatnot. And I think electric power plants have to be upkept too. I don't think they'd continue creating power indefinitely.

Likewise, I think even spam bots require some human maintanence, no?

At any rate, the place I worked at on September 11th didn't come to a halt. And we were using the internet there. And this place had nothing to do with news gathering.

#12 ::: DaveKuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 10:20 AM:

Thank you, Chloe, for voicing the same thought I had. Without supervision and maintenance, much of the infrastructure in the world would cease to operate within days. The very little remaining active would be comprised of equipment devised to operate on natural sources such as solar, wind, water, and geothermal power and those certainly wouldn't last long without regular maintenance.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 10:21 AM:

It does indeed need physical maintenance. That's why there's that regularly scheduled cleaning every spring.

#14 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 10:42 AM:

For what it's worth, here's a link to an example post of Stephan's. He seems to have used it as a signature; it sounds like the kind of thing which originally appeared in an article body, but a quick search didn't throw it up.

I know I should remove the highlighting from that Google link, but I kind of like it. :-)

Skwid - I like PBEM games, so I tried to follow your link, but it's 404-compliant...

(Seth Breidbart of Breidbart Index fame? It's a pleasure to "meet" you :)

#15 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 10:48 AM:

Doh! Foiled by not checking my own damn URL!

My bad.

#16 ::: Cryptic Ned ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 01:26 PM:

But what does "Make maintain AIX." mean?

#17 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 01:51 PM:

Hmmmm... spring cleaning. Maybe that should become an internet tradition!

I know that just a few months ago, I myself did a big cleaning of getting rid of a lot of useless files off the web. It was more like a late summer early autumn type cleaning... but still.

I wonder if the people who leave blogs lying dormant full of spam are in the rest of their cleanliness habits. Probably otherwise neat-nick people, I would bet.

#18 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 02:34 PM:

While I agree that the net currently needs human maintainance, this may not always be so. Considering that spammers include real test to foil Baysian filters, I can see "There Will Come Soft Rains" being promulgated.

#19 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 04:10 PM:

It isn't "spring cleaning" per se, it takes place every fourth year. (You'd think people would realize it's a joke, but backbone traffic drops considerably.)

There's a lot more real-time human work involved in keeping the Internet running than people realize [tinc].

And yes, Paul, that's me.

#20 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 04:20 PM:

Cryptic Ned, the line is actually "Make me maintain AIX" which was a riff on "Make me write bad checks". If you don't get the reference to AIX, think of it as something written by a Martian who got told by another Martian about this Unix[tm] thing Earthlings have. (Sorry, I couldn't find the original reference to that; the earliest I found was by Kai Henningsen in 1998.)

#21 ::: Rich Magahiz ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2004, 08:37 PM:

On the topic of how long the internet would survive without humans, there was a relevant article at The Straight Dope a few months back.

#22 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 12:11 AM:

Seth, there's a simpler way to explain AIX: it was written by/for IBM.

I never had to maintain it, but I once got stuck writing the layer that made the rest of an operation platform-independent. I don't think there's an alignment to adequately describe AIX -- unless maybe I resort to Glenn Blacow's extension and call it Law'n'Orderful Evil.

#23 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 09:21 AM:

If abandoned sites are public nuicances, there's going to be a problem with getting them shut down. Aside from people who just aren't bothering to deal with their abandoned sites, I bet there are sites which belong to people who are too ill or too massively distracted to deal with them, not to mention free or automatically paid for sites which belong to people who've died.

Any notions for even remotely feasible policies for dealing with this?

#24 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 10:26 AM:

CHip, written by IBM doesn't imply anything in particular. APL\360 was written by IBM. So was OS/2. But so was OS360.

Nancy, there isn't any way in general to get stuff shut down. (If there were, there's a lot of stuff way ahead of abandoned sites on the list.) What could be done is getting the search engines to ignore those sites.

#25 ::: Chloe ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 10:36 AM:

Geez, we're getting into morbid territory here now.
Thinking about what web sites might be filled with spam because the authors are dead. :(

I think that the only way to combat it would be through Google... Because it's the google-ranking that makes comment spam appealing. If Google somehow weeded out these old defunct web sites that were full of spam, then the appeal would drop perhaps? Or at least the spammers wouldn't get anything out of it.

But truly, I don't think the spam problem will end until the supply & demand issue is solved. In other words, as long as people keep buying crap from them, they'll stay in business. And keep spamming.

#26 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 03:59 PM:

Re: AIX: one of the things that annoys me the most about all this is when push comes to shove, AIX wasn't all that bad. Certainly not enough that I'm particularly happy that that specific one-liner was sprayed all over Creation by the Linux people; it's Just Not That Funny. The comment spam just made things a little worse... Besides, working with the IBMs has its compensations: the hardware was incredibly tough. My HPs and Pyramids would wilt if you bumped into them wrong-- but IBMs were built as if they were expected to survive a near-miss from a nuke. I mean, I once ran over my AIX wingman with an IBM-- the machine was fine, but he was limping for a week.

Socar wrote: If it had, poor Mr. Zielinski would've had is name permanently attached to a post about my giant, carnivorous rat.

Wait a minute. Are you saying that if you'd allowed unapproved commenting on your blog, it would somehow have prevented my divorcing my first wife? Damn chaos butterfly...

(Just kidding. I never got the divorce. [ba-dump bump]. Never married, actually. My mother is saying Bad Magic is what she got in lieu of a grandchild; she threatens to show people pictures of the cover when she's queued up at the supermarket.)

#27 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 04:26 PM:

Stephan Zielinski wrote:
Re: AIX: one of the things that annoys me the most about all this is when push comes to shove, AIX wasn't all that bad.

I'll take AIX anyday over HP-UX.

#28 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 04:44 PM:

Bill: indeed. For its faults, I really liked OSF/1 aka Digital Unix aka Compaq Tru64 Unix, now "hp Tru64 Unix"...but HP put it (and the Alpha) on the chopping block, and now backed off on their promises to port AdvFS and TruCluster to HockeyPux.

AIX has its moments. The way that SMIT ("smit happens") in GUI mode has the little running man, and if the command succeeds he raises his hands, but if it fails he falls down...you wouldn't expect that level of humor from IBM, normally.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 04:58 PM:

Tell Mother Zielinski I think she's swell.

#30 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 05:07 PM:

Stephan Z.,

"chaos butterfly" -- happened to watch the Director's Cut on DVD last night of "The Butterfly effect." It's Ashton Kutcher in actual Science Fiction (not Sci-fi), consistent strongly acted, character-driven, dark.

As to IBM, I started on IBM1130 in 1966 or 1967, and like them for that; and for APL which made Matrices and tensor calculus more fun, and not bad for writing 100-line Artifical Intelligence programs and compiler-complier-compilers and stuff, so I like IBM for that; and I adore the Thomas Watson Research Labs (especially when Ned Nethercott was the leader) and inventions and journals that flow therefrom. You have nothing to be embarassed about.

"Think!"

#31 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 07:54 PM:

OSF/1 was nice... I've had very little direct exposure to it, but what I've seen was tolerable.

Right now, I generally use Windows at work, as well as the occasional Macintosh.

At home? I use both Windows and FreeBSD systems. I'm hoping to get a Mac eventually--- but that's going to require full time employment on my part before my wife lets me commence the purchase. I was spoiled silly by the long-term loan of the Powerbook from work, and I'd like to get one of those, or an iBook.

#32 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 08:34 PM:

Bill: Mac user since 1986, Unix user since 1988, Unix sysadmin since 1991. I love having a Mac running a Unix-based OS. (My home network's a mix of Mac and FreeBSD.)

#33 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2004, 09:12 PM:

Whoa, the thread's gone screaming off into OS comparisons since I last looked...

Stephan - sorry, I just couldn't resist posting this one:

But you've got to hand it to IBM, they know how to design hardware. The servers all had handles to pick them up and throw them out of the window... -- Juergen Nieveler

#34 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 06:26 PM:

I have the unfortunate experience of being more than a little familiar with most of the unixen - and I'm willing to claim that all of them (and even windows!) have their particular strengths.

The phenomenon that seriously gets my goat is the "this is the solution for all problems" cultish mentality attached to certain software (including operating systems). I can picture - horribly and hideously - a technocratic priesthood...

#35 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 11:26 PM:

As for which software is always best, just remember: "All software sucks."

#36 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2004, 11:44 PM:

xeger wrote:
I can picture - horribly and hideously - a technocratic priesthood...

That's just asking for gratuitous 2112 jokes.

#37 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 09:38 AM:

I always thought OS/2 was a good OS hampered by a bad marketing model. I never got to see AIX in action but the SMIT guy sounds funny.

About getting your name into spam -- I guess one can take comfort from the thought that's there'e no such thing as bad publicity. Name recognition is not to be sneered at.

#38 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 12:47 PM:
Bill Blum: "That's just asking for gratuitous 2112 jokes."
Wow. The Temples of Syrinx will run on LINUX?

What distro?

#39 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 04:27 PM:

It's sort of odd to see you repeating long lists of drug brand names in your blog. Isn't that pretty much exactly what the spammers want?

#40 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 05:21 PM:
It's sort of odd to see you repeating long lists of drug brand names in your blog. Isn't that pretty much exactly what the spammers want?

No, they want people to click on their links, and Teresa didn't include any of those. What benefit would spammers derive from people simply mentioning drug names?

#41 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 08:04 PM:

All hardware sucks, all software sucks.

However, while hardware extracts your blood, software extracts your sanity.

#42 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 08:40 PM:

It's sort of odd to see you repeating long lists of drug brand names in your blog. Isn't that pretty much exactly what the spammers want?

If you search on that list of drug brand names, Making Light's front page comes up #17.

#43 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2004, 10:02 PM:

I was on the front page of Making Light and only just noticed that Teresa had gone to the trouble of alphabetizing the list of drug names. This made me smile.

#44 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2004, 12:10 PM:

Yeah, so I just had to delete 49 comment spams for texas hold'em from my tiny little RPG blog linked in my second post above. And with the rustic software on the site, that requires about 5-6 clicks per spam. He's using an IP scrambler and rotating the user name, which means I'm more or less helpless to ban the crap.

I've set old threads to disallow comments. I don't know what else I can do.

#45 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2004, 02:22 PM:

What Dan said. I linked no links, and anyway spammers generally use funny respellings of drug names to frustrate spam filters. It would be interesting to see whether my post got blocked anywhere on account of that list.

Thanks, Rose. It's meant to be a small amusement.

#46 ::: coln roald ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2004, 03:21 PM:

If you are willing to write some SQL, it's much easier to do mass deletes of comment spam from the DB command line. So far I've always been able to nail them with a simple pattern on the comment url.
Email me if you want examples.

#47 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2004, 03:38 PM:

Queep.

That's more than a little bit over my head.

#48 ::: Decklin Foster ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2005, 09:13 AM:

Gah! I'm in that quotesfile too! Thank you for noticing this. It's quite annoying.

(google for "decklin foster" "where's that anarchist spirit"...)

I really have no idea why Knghtbrd snarfed that line; it sounds like I said it on Slashdot when I was 16. And now it's everywhere...

#49 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2005, 11:30 PM:

Teresa --

Since I am entirely certain you are able to understand a card catalogue, I feel at least moderately safe asserting that SQL wouldn't be any more difficult. It's just doing unto by way of the rows and columns to something that's about as organized as Dewey.

Database design is a hair-tearer, but straight up SQL -- select * from Comments really isn't that bad.

#50 ::: Bill Blum finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2005, 07:16 AM:

Thanks for being easy to spot,spammer.

#51 ::: Stefan Jones sees ironic spam on ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2006, 12:25 AM:

Some old stuff too!

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2006, 12:34 AM:

Bugs, Mr. Rico, I'm a-burning 'em down.

#53 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2008, 01:46 AM:

Spam from 209.9.243.185

#54 ::: Spammer ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2008, 01:42 AM:

Spam from 196.40.20.82

#55 ::: Stefan Jones sees more inept spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2008, 01:51 AM:

Maybe it's the mantra
Of the walls and wiring

#56 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2008, 07:24 PM:

Spam from 203.162.2.135

#57 ::: joann sees more recursive spam at #57 ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2008, 07:42 PM:

Bo-ring.

#58 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2008, 08:15 PM:

It's not bad code, it's PHPbb link code. It's cheaper to hope it'll parse than to figure out what a given forum needs, especially if you're either running an autoposter (which I won't name here, because that would draw their attention) or if you're paying a Kenyan to post it for you.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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