Barbarians At The Gate, Spam Edition

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We have long had a problem with Spam comments here at Attainable Adventure Cruising but lately the hackers have gone nuts with this stuff. We are currently getting over 1000 spam comments a day. In fact, it’s so bad that the load is crashing our server about once a day and slowing it down the rest of the time.

In the past, most of these Spam comments were caught by our filter system so you, our readers, never saw them. But that very filtering process puts a huge load on the server and, worse still, in recent weeks more Spam comments have been getting through.

We delete them just as fast as we can but we do have to sleep sometimes, and anyway, messing with this stuff is taking a lot of time that we could use for creating content or maybe even going sailing.

First Attempted Solution

We did try requiring a simple arithmetical test before accepting a comment. This has stopped much of the Spam, but unfortunately it actually increased the load on the server, probably because of all the spammers trying to randomly solve the problem.

New Ideas

Over the next couple of weeks, as part of our effort to get this fixed, we are going to run several experiments including:

  • Turning off comments completely for 24 hours to verify that it really is Spam that is causing our speed problem.
  • Make it so only logged in members of the AAC Book Club can comment.
  • Try a security proxy server type firewall.

The last of these is in many ways the most attractive of the potential solutions; however, it does, like all firewalls, carry the risk of false positives that will lock out innocent readers, and worse still paying members, so before we try that, we will set up a special way for you to contact us if you do get locked out.

Please bear with us as we try and solve this Spam problem.

Nasty Stuff

By the way, not only is this Spam a pain for us, if one of you inadvertently clicked on one of these Spam comments and were taken to the linked site, your computer could be infected with malware—this is nasty stuff.

AAC Is Safe

Just to clarify, we pay to have this site scanned every four hours to make sure it’s malware free and safe, but we can’t be sure that every site a comment links to is clean too, and that goes double for Spam.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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12 comments … add one
  • Bob Miller Apr 3, 2014, 11:34 am

    So how did your SPAM test work out? Did turning off comments improve server performance? Hope it gets resolved without making commenting to much of a hassle.

    • John Apr 3, 2014, 1:57 pm

      Hi Bob,

      Yup, turning off comments solved all of our server performance problems.

      Still, comments are too much of what makes AAC what it is to turn them off permanently, so we are looking at other solutions.

      Actually I had a huge brain storm this morning…stay tuned.

  • scott flanders Apr 3, 2014, 11:40 am

    Its time to go sailing and enjoy yourselves. Tick, tick, tick.

  • Steve Stucko Apr 3, 2014, 11:55 am

    I appreciate that you have taken the time to tell us about your battles with the SPAM issue and your attempts to resolve it. I can only imagine how painful it is for you, we deal too much on our sites and have a fraction of the readership you do.
    Please continue to update us on your successes and failures with this process, it is valuable information for me and for other readers as well.
    Best of luck,

  • FAIVET Apr 3, 2014, 12:09 pm

    Les spams sont un probleme, j ai quelques difficultes pour traduire MORGAN CLOUD sur W8 ? les manipulations sont + compliquees que sur W7, La navigation” ? est comme sur une mer agitee ( humour francais) ULYSSE

    • Matt Apr 4, 2014, 8:09 am

      Many, if not most, people have at least some trouble working with Windows 8. (What’s really fun is the server version… which has the “metro” touch-tile user interface, and is almost always accessed over a remote console where the hot corners, animations, etc. are completely impossible to use.)

      If you’re finding problems that are specific to the AAC site in Win8’s IE11 browser, that would be good to know. IE11 does have some weird non-standard quirks, but the site should still render and behave correctly.

      • John Apr 4, 2014, 9:45 am

        Hi Matt and Faivet,

        Thanks for stepping in there, Matt. Me and Google translate failed that one.

        I have just tested the site on Windows 8 (for my sins) and the latest version of Explorer (11.02) and it seems to be working fine.

        Could this be an earlier version of Explorer running on 8 problem maybe?

        The other option would be to go over to Chrome or Firefox—friends don’t let friends use Explorer.

        • FAIVET May 18, 2014, 5:45 am

          Salut John
          Je confirme
          Le navigateur Explorer sur W8 est compliqué
          Chrome un peu mieux
          W8 ( on dit en France = ” usine a gaz ” pour la simplicite ? – humour )

  • David Apr 3, 2014, 1:58 pm

    Hi John,
    What a pain, burning time you could use for productive purposes. A quick suggestion for something you might try: Cappchas. You probably already know that a captcha is one of those little tests where you see a distorted version of some text of numbers and are asked to type in what it is. Turns out people can do that easily and spambots can’t. That might work much better than the simple arithmetic test but should be about the same difficulty to implement as most blog platforms have easy captcha components that can be added. It should also be a light load on your server.
    Hope that’s helpful.
    David
    svTigress

    • John Apr 3, 2014, 3:15 pm

      Hi David,

      Thanks for the suggestion. We looked at Capchas. The problem is that people hate them and therefore don’t comment. The other issue is that the Spam robots try and solve them and this in turn actually puts the load up on the server, not down, as we discovered with the simple match problem we are using now.

  • RDE (Richard Elder) Apr 3, 2014, 4:35 pm

    Hi John,
    Might I suggest that you chat with Lou Dawson over at his web site wildsnow.com? He runs a wildly popular website that gets a substantial volume of comments just like AAC, and I know he has faced the same problems. (and you might find the AT ski information interesting as well)

    From my usual irreverent perspective, the best thing to do with SPAM is fry it and feed it to the dog—.

    • John Apr 5, 2014, 8:17 am

      Thanks, Richard, good idea to look at what others are doing. We web site managers are all struggling with this, and it has got a lot worse in the last two months. Charlie over at WaveTrain had to close comments down completely because of the recent flood of Spam.

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