Sam – let’s call our interviewee Sam, it’s suitably anonymous – lives in a three-bedroom semi-detached house in London, drives a vintage Jaguar and runs his own company. But “it’s not not all rock and roll and big money”, says Sam. What isn’t? Spamming websites and blogs with text to pump up the search engine rankings of sites pushing PPC (pills, porn and casinos), that’s what.
For that’s what Sam does, pretty much all day long. He – we’ll use the male notation, it’s easier – would do this anyway for fun, but it’s more than fun; he says he can earn seven-figure sums doing this. Sam is a link spammer.
There is some interesting history that indicates the actions of spammers are pretty much following the moves of the big search sites, so when Google changes their PageRank algorithm, the spammers follow suit to find the next crack in the ship. Or, “All Your Blogs Are Spam-able”?
“You could be aiming at 20,000 or 100,000 blogs. Any sensible spammer will be looking to spam not for quality [of site] but quantity of links.” When a new blog format appears, it can take less than ten minutes to work out how to comment spam it. Write a couple of hundred lines of terminal script, and the spam can begin.
People like “Sam” make their bucks out of getting their PPC (porn, pills, casino) sites in the Google top 10, the front page view, and apparently, it is a soft life. A few lines of code, a few mouse clicks, hiding behind proxies, and Bam! A shiny new red Jag. What are we all doing working?
Sam dismisses any effect on his soft life by Google’s “nofollow” implementation. And what makes Sam’s work a bit harder:
“The hardest form to spam is that which requires manual authentication such as captchas. Or those where you have to reply to an email, click on a link in it; though that can be automated too. Those where you have to register and click on links, they’re hard as well. And if you change the folder names where things usually reside, that’s a challenge, because you just gather lists of installations’ folder names.”
And Sams of the world are stepping up their aim on Trackback– I noticed this morning when a blog site I set up in November for my visit to New Zealand woke up and sent 8 notices of links inserted for the holy trio (PPC). I realized I had set up the MovableType Blacklist plugin, but had forgotten to activate it (doh).
Bloggers can take a more active stand (see Six Apart Guide to Fighting Spam) starting with some basics like renaming the file names of the comment script – blog spammers look for the default names (it is a kiddie script task to build this just by harvesting google links to blogs), to more complex like the Blacklist plugins, adding graphic “captchas” (which I am still trying to sort out getting the right perl libraries installed), adding scripts/plugins to close old blog posts.
There is still a long way to go. Hmmmm, a blue Jaguar would like nice in my driveway…
The mounting onslaught of email pitches for porn, pills, and penis enlargement has some techno-pundits declaring that spam is on the verge of destroying the Internet. In Spam Kings, author and investigative journalist Brian McWilliams delivers a compelling account of the cat-and-mouse game played by spam entrepreneurs (including the notorious Davis Wolfgang Hawke, “Dr. Fatburn,” and Scott Richter) in search of easy fortunes and the cyber-vigilantes who are trying to stop them.