What's up with all the spambots?

It seems that we are being raided by vandals.

Is there anything to do beside mark as spam? Is the SE network doing anything (possibly legal proceedings, if they are applicable) to help and prevent this?

I DON'T LIKE SPAM!

I would also like to remind everyone that it is important to flag spam messages. After several flags it gets deleted automatically!

• The SPAM advertises for Web Hosting in India. Do you really think SE is going to go sue some l4m3r in India? In any case, flag away: Mods get notified of spam flags, and a spam flag from a Mod is worth five of yours. :p – Willie Wong Oct 7 '11 at 12:06
• @Willie: In part I posted this to remind the meta readers that flagging as spam is a good thing. When I flag a spam post which is -4 votes I know that this post could have been deleted by the time I got to see it. – Asaf Karagila Oct 7 '11 at 21:04
• @Phira: Serious question of the uninformed: What is the point of this downvote/comment? – t.b. Oct 8 '11 at 0:16
• @t.b. Discouraging people to post uncommented links that make me inadvertently click on a youtube video in an environment where I don't want my computer to sing songs because I think that it is a link to an example of a spam post or to another relevant thread? – Phira Oct 8 '11 at 0:18
• @Phira: if you moused over before clicking, you would have found out at once that it's a YouTube link. So much for looking before leaping... – J. M. is a poor mathematician Oct 8 '11 at 3:33
• @Phira: As J.M. says, hovering over a link gives you the address in the status bar. I did not try to hide the fact that this is a youtube video by using some tinyurl-like service. This is the internet, and if you are not used to hovering before clicking - you may get yourself into bigger troubles than youtube videos. – Asaf Karagila Oct 8 '11 at 6:23
• @Asaf: I am well aware of hovering and I did so for this particular link. I still think that it is a very bad habit to link youtube videos without saying that they are youtube videos and what they are about. If you want to convey the message that I should not trust you, fine. I find it unlikely that you hover every single time before you click a link. Also, for me this was a slight annoyance and the only reason I commented was because J.M commended you for the "courtesy" of doing what I perceive as discourtesy. – Phira Oct 8 '11 at 8:54
• When driving, even in a familiar neighborhood, I take care to look before turning into a corner. I take similar care when clicking on links on the Internet, but I guess the habit is uncommon nowadays. – J. M. is a poor mathematician Oct 8 '11 at 9:34
• @Phira: Many people do things which are hard to believe. I hover before I click. Always. If one is to survive the internet, one needs to adapt himself to the environment. Why would you trust me if I wrote it is youtube? If it wasn't youtube and I would still write that? Would you trust someone that you have never met before? – Asaf Karagila Oct 8 '11 at 9:34
• @Asaf: If I met someone at a maths conference that I have never seen who was introduced as a mathematician and he gave me an article I would expect it to be mathematics. Talking about "surviving the internet" is somewhat exaggerated. I do not always hover before I click on links provided by regular users on forums I frequent and I have never even been transported to a porn or sales site. Rickrolled, yes. Hovering above your link does not tell me whether I want to see the youtube video. It is not courteous and obviously, you are free to be so and I am free to express my displeasure. – Phira Oct 8 '11 at 9:52
• Without hovering on the link I knew it would be to a video of Monty Python's spam sketch. :-) – ShreevatsaR Oct 9 '11 at 3:33
• My take on this is "meh." Compared to most of my open tabs at any given time (excluding the pdfs), m.se is still virtually a spam-free paradise, and the infrequent occasions it crops up the only real consequence is that a few people get their flag weight boosted some hours later. (Also, downvoting in order to discourage people from not warning about youtube destinations strikes me as unnecessary; all-capitals hyperlinks ending in exclamation points - i.e. internet yelling - is generally a sign that links may not point to sane places, and I'd like to encourage others to understand that fact...) – anon Oct 11 '11 at 8:41
• @anon: Monty Python has never claimed to do anything with sanity, so it fits well into your theory. (Also in my defense I was only quoting Eric Idle...) :-P – Asaf Karagila Oct 11 '11 at 10:34
• @J.M.: Organ enlargement pills, Nigerian princes and lastly YOUTUBE LINKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS! :-) – Asaf Karagila Oct 12 '11 at 22:18
• @Kaveh: I fail to see the point of re-tagging an eight-month old post! – user1729 Jun 11 '12 at 12:32

1 Answer

I'd like to mention another observation although I cannot guess the rationale behind. In the "tetration-forum", which is a usually calm and spam-free much focused discussion-forum, we had an increase of spam-bots (see comments [a] and [b]), which simply copy&pasted questions at other forums and/or introduced themselves with copied introduction-post from elsewhere. In the beginning they also linked to some web-adress and so. But after we began to take measures they suppressed their linking but still registered (anonymous and/or fake real-named) users (many of them were easily detected simply using google for some characteristic expressions in their self-introductionary texts). Concerning the latter, purely registrations without trying to deliver some spam-address, I don't have any clue, for what this could be meaningful for the spammers (maybe simply exercising, or developing the spam-robots or just fun/sportive provocation) .

Just today I saw a question - actually from april this year, but has popped up because of some edits of some serious member of MSE. That was clearly such a spambot-"question" and I added some comment at it, see below for reference. This question has actually many answers and comments, noone (except one, who linked to the source of the text at mathforum.org of the "question") has then been/could have been aware, that this was fake. However, that user has even got some reputation... I didn't check things further, and still have no clue what this is good for at all.

Here, for reference, my comment on the question:

After Yuval's hint to the mathforum I'd like to mention, that the text of the question is 100% identical with that of the mathforum, and the fact that neither its reference was given nor anything about the existing answers there was mentioned I assume

a) this is not a real question, and (see meta)
b) maybe not even a real person asking but possibly an automated transfer of a somehow mathematically sounding text.

A pdf-file with an excerpt of "how to spam a forum using robots" is available at the discussion of this in the tetration-forum as well, see here .
To give an idea for questions like that of Asaf in the comments below I cite one participant with his argument from that transscript (still without really knowing how the real profit works):

(...) Well it worked for me, 100k backlinks in about half an hour. Though ovbiously some get deleted etc so half it and say 50k. Not bad for half an hours work and $450. Plus you get the uniques from people clicking on the links which you are spamming which for me was about 10k+ for about a week.(...) • I couldn't tell that it was a bot-post. Thanks for the heads-up! – J. M. is a poor mathematician Oct 11 '11 at 13:06 • You're welcome. Yes, without Yuval's hint I too would not have seen this. Perhaps some random checks on questions which have got some answers and comments but show no further interaction by the originator could be even more enlightening... – Gottfried Helms Oct 11 '11 at 15:03 • So... bots register to ask ripped off questions from other math forums, and they do that for no good reason?? – Asaf Karagila Oct 11 '11 at 15:42 • Seems so; yet we've always to learn... In the excerpt of the spam-forum-discussion (see link below again) there was some arguing on "collecting clicks" - maybe that "users" get in any way iDollars for clicks on their homepages (there is even a concept of "unique clicks" if I recall right). But I didn't really dive in this - there should be some collegues around with more expertise. For me it is still a riddle, too; yes. The pdf with the transcript math.eretrandre.org/tetrationforum/attachment.php?aid=688 – Gottfried Helms Oct 11 '11 at 15:52 • @Gottfried The author of the linked question also asked a handful of related questions around the same time. This is not something that an automated spambot could easily due without very specialized knowledge of mathematics. I have no doubt that those are questions posed by a human. Note that many questions will have similar or identical text since they are simply copied from textbooks, problem sets, etc. Also they may be prior questions that the OP posted to other forums but which did not receive satisfactory answers. – Bill Dubuque Oct 11 '11 at 16:09 • @Bill: well, your followup observations may be correct and may or may not have lead to correct conclusions. (But the transcript of the xRumer -related discussion was also a couple of years ago). Unfortunately I've not enough resources to investigate this in more depth, after I've contributed what I have and really to be of help. So I think, best is to let this to you moderators and/or more experienced fellow members here. Simply let's be attentive to such strange behave like copy&paste of questions without refering the source and then being completely inactive after help was provided. – Gottfried Helms Oct 11 '11 at 16:21 • @Bill is correct. The user has responded to others in comments and stated s/he has bad English. A few times I've even copied and pasted text exactly from MSE to 4chan's math and science board just to see what discussion would come up there (I'm mostly disappointed when I try). I think they merely googled their question, found the one they understood best and transcribed it over here for an answer they could understand. At any rate, our Q&A site grows and develops nonetheless. Also, the way you quoted the spam pdf it made me think they made$450 instead of dropped it on the spamming service.. – anon Oct 11 '11 at 16:47