Articles, Security

Forum Spammers: Who Are They and What Do They Want?

Everyone who ventures into a forum comes across spam eventually. We know it’s annoying, we know it will happen if security is weak. But what exactly is posting the spam, and why? That is the focus of this article. If we can understand why spam happens we can work to prevent it. I’ll share some simple tips to keep your forum spam-free as well.

Spam is typically unrelated content posted on your forum consisting of links to other websites, images, affiliate links, product offers, and other solicitations. No matter how big or small your forum, spam will eventually find you. You may be wondering, why would a spammer target my forum that is just starting out? Most likely it is a bot. A bot is a computer program that is designed to post content automatically across multiple websites. They probably don’t mind if your forum is not active. As long as they can sneak in a few links then their mission has been successful. Spammers can also be real humans.

Regardless of who posts the spam, the goal is mostly the same in all instances. Spammers want to get links on your webpages to boost their search engine rankings. They might also be trying to gain traffic from your website through links, or to lure people into affiliate offers. Spammers might not target your discussion forums. I have seen spammers send multiple private messages to my users, or post comments on their profile. It’s a sneaky trick, since most moderators and admins rarely check their members profiles for spam. Unless the recipient reports the spam, you might not know it’s there.

So now that we know what spam is and who posts it, what can we do to combat it?

The first line of defense is reasonable forum permissions for each member category. Allowing guests to post without logging in is going to attract spam since it is an easy target. Make sure guests are not allowed to post messages, private messages, or comment within profiles.

The next thing spammers will do if they cannot post as guests is try to register an account on your forum. Make sure your registration security includes at least an image verification system, like CAPTCHA. Bots are not able to input the characters in the image in these forms, so they cannot register. Human spammers, however, can still get through this.

To deal with human spammers, consider requiring new members to activate their accounts via email. This forces human spammers to use real email accounts if they want to post messages.

You can also refine the member groups that can post links and pictures. For example, a newly registered member cannot post links until they reach 10 posts. This keeps human spammers and spam bots from getting the links they are after. You can also change your links to “nofollow” which takes away the possibly of links to gain rankings by being on your webpages.

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