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Spam The Internet Your Rights Online

Spam Through HTTP Referrer Logs 52

Posted by timothy
from the laundering-kiddie-porn-money dept.
Max Romantschuk writes "This morning while doing my usual log review of reader activity on my weblog, I discovered some rather strange sites, porn sites, which were linking to me. Closer inspection revealed that they weren't linking to me at all, but that someone had falsified the HTTP referrer header to inject the links into my logs." (Read more below.)

Max Romantschuk continues: "It took a moment to realize what was going on, but then it dawned to me, I was being spammed through my referrer logs! A quick google search on the words "referrer spam" confirmed my suspicions, this was indeed a widespread practice, and not new at all. In fact, Wired had an article on the subject dating almost a year back. It turns out the spammers aren't after blog authors, but what they are actually doing is targetting people which publish their referrer logs on their sites automatically. Fortunately, I don't.

I run a very small site, and get about 20 to 50 visits a day, and I don't publish my logs. Not exactly a likely target, am I? Clearly these spammers seem to do this in volume, and the phenomenon is bound to increase as email spamming is becomming increasingly hard. With email spam, IM spam, Windows Messaging spam (NET SEND popups) and HTTP referrer spam, how long will it take until every open technology has to be locked down? I hate to say it, but I doubt Wikis and similar systems will stay open for very long if things keep going in this direction."

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Spam Through HTTP Referrer Logs

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  • by jjshoe (410772) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @10:07AM (#7567976) Homepage
    The idea behind a Wiki is that anyone can maintain it. The more people that maintaining something, (Linux) means all the more people to remove nasties. In this case the nasties just happen to be spam. As long as copies of the Wiki are kept after every N changes all should be good, just in case a spammer deletes everything...
    • Due to the fact that anyone can maintain it spammers can add and change it. Now, can any number of people find and delete spam in a Wiki faster than however many bots the spammers decide to throw at it?
      • I'm contributing to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], and we have some ways to deal with vandalism. We weren't (yet !) victims of determined spammers with bots, so it's theoritical, but here are things we can use:
        • first, all changes appear in a special page, so anyone can see them, and switch back to a previous version in history. Anyone can in one click see differences with the previous version
        • all contributions of users (anonymous or not) are easily viewable by anyone, thus cleaning after finding a spammer is made easier
        • sysop
        • This is all not enough, if bots can sign up for accounts. You're going to need
          eventually to set things up so that only a verified human can get an account,
          and only a logged-in user can edit anything.
  • Not Always Spam (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If you snoop on people, you get what you deserve.

    Personally I don't like people tracking my referrer links. Mind your own business. If you want to see who is linking you, you can do that with google. I know people disagree, since your website is your business. But I don't like being monitored that closely.

    Maybe I'll set my referrer to goats.cx.

    BTW, this story has been seen on Slashdot before.

    • So blank it (Score:3, Insightful)

      by J_DarkElf (602111)

      Personally I don't like people tracking my referrer links. [snip] Maybe I'll set my referrer to goats.cx.

      Just leave your damn referrer blank then. I suppress the referrer through Opera everywhere, and only enable it on sites which are foolish enough to believe I want to leech their images, and on those maybe one or two sites where I know they use my referrer info for something useful.

      But don't set it to some bogus info, or you're no better than these crimina^H^H^H^H^H^H^H spammers.

      • It would be useful if a browser had an option to set the referrer to:

        1) Blank
        2) Constant value
        3) Same URL that is being retrieved
        4) "base" URL of the site being accessed -- ie if you were acccessing http://www.yahoo.com/some/path/some/file.html the referer would be "http://www.yahoo.com/"
        • Re:So blank it (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          4) "base" URL of the site being accessed -- ie if you were acccessing http://www.yahoo.com/some/path/some/file.html the referer would be "http://www.yahoo.com/"

          privoxy [privoxy.org] can do this.
        • Re:So blank it (Score:3, Informative)

          by Carnildo (712617)
          The Proxomitron does #3 -- with the side benefit of letting me view images that people have hotlinked from Geocities and other free hosting providers.
      • > sites which are foolish enough to believe I want to leech their images

        Clearly you don't run a site yourself. That happens. There is nothing foolish about checking for it.

        It costs me hundreds of MB per month if I don't keep an eye on my logs. If my bandwidth use suddenly goes up and I start seeing the same forum showing in my log hundreds of times, going to one of the URLs inevitably shows some asshat using an image from my site in his avatar or sig.

        > But don't set it to some bogus info, or you're
        • -----
          going to one of the URLs inevitably shows some asshat using an image from my site in his avatar or sig.
          -----
          I had no idea that referrer IDs and URLs were embedded in pictures. Not that I have a sig or an avatar (a what?) but it's an interesting bit of information for me.

          At what point are we going to start tracking our pee after it's in the ocean?
    • Snooping on people is not really the problem. I don't really care if people blank out their referrer or put something bogus instead. The problem is that by having your logs constantly spammed, your log data becomes useless. If you're using a log analysis program like webalizer, your total hits, visits, etc are way out of wack because only 1 out of every 3 or so hits is legitimate. You can't get an accurate picture of how many hits your site is actually getting. I don't know how it happened, but my site
    • Referral logs are a valuable tool for webmasters. For one, it'll tell you which search phrases are getting you the most hits.
    • Personally I don't like people tracking my referrer links. Mind your own business. If you want to see who is linking you, you can do that with google.

      True, but if you get a spike in visits, your referrer logs can often tell you who linked to you... I like to know whats happening, when it's happening ;)

      I know people disagree, since your website is your business. But I don't like being monitored that closely.

      As was already said, then block your referrer :)

      BTW, this story has been seen on Slashdot befo
  • Well, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by noselasd (594905) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @10:25AM (#7568153)
    Last time I asked people about this, I was told this was script kiddies
    scanning for open proxies and similar things, using some certain scripts/whatever which annoyed the logs with falsifyed referes.
    • ... check out what the Herbalife and other MLM scumbags are doing to Monster.com. This phenomenon appears to be spreading over the entire net.

      I have used Monster.com [monster.com] on several occasions, and even found a contract there a couple of times, and I was even considering advertising on their site. In just the last week or so, however, I have noticed a new trend that is rapidly rendering Monster.com completely worthless. Seems that my current job search agents (for C++/C#/Java programming) are returning dozens
  • Small site? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hell O'World (88678) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @10:39AM (#7568285)

    I run a very small site, and get about 20 to 50 visits a day,
    until I posted a link to it on Slashdot.
    • He handles the load pretty well now, it is probably because he carefully prepared for the assault ;-)
      • I run a very small site, and get about 20 to 50 visits a day, until I posted a link to it on Slashdot.

        He handles the load pretty well now, it is probably because he carefully prepared for the assault ;-)

        "The assault" consisted of around 20 people who visited my page so far ;) Actually, one of my stories was featured on the front page, and even then there was only minor traffic.

        Then again, in neither story was my site in the actual focus.
    • if ( $ENV{HTTP_REFERER} =~ /slashdot\.org/ )
      {
      mail("me@mycellphone.com", "help!", "I'm meeeelting!");
      init_throttle();
      pray();
      }
  • by Brandon T. (167891) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @10:50AM (#7568408) Homepage
    I was having the same problem; getting literally thousands of hits to my site from referrers for all kinds of porn and other random domain names. I did a google search and found this site: http://www.spywareinfo.com/articles/referer_spam/ [spywareinfo.com]. It shows how to use mod_rewrite with apache to block the most frequent domains. I took Mike's blacklist and created this page [resynthesize.com], which automatically creates the .htaccess file for you. The problem is that they seem to be registering tons of new domain names so it's hard to keep up a decent blacklist.
  • by Alethes (533985) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @11:08AM (#7568611)
    they are actually doing is targetting people which publish their referrer logs

    Hmmm, who reads the logs that aren't published? Geeks with no girlfriends, maybe? Sounds like a good target audience for a porn site to me.

    "Hey, why is [insert favorite porn site here] linking to my geek portal/blog? They must be a good site if they link to mine, and I can easily explain my visit to the boss!"
  • Since when (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I don't think porn sites are strange at all, in fact there are lots of them.... how silly to think of them as strange...
  • by TimButterfield (16686) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @12:08PM (#7569267) Homepage
    Web sites can be defaced. This is typically thought of as illegal. Does the level of security on that site affect the legality of the defacement? Just because a wiki is more easily editable than an otherwise non-secure site should not automatically allow hijacking of that site for purposes other than those intended by its owner. Would the appearance of 'specific wording' on the site make enforcement of this easier?
    • Except that one guys defacement could be another man's legitimate posting. Take a look at the average message board. People make trolling, yet related comments everyday. Who is to say that is or isn't vandalism? Perhaps a better course of action would be to limit the number of posts in a given day. I would think 10 wiki posts (they should be insightful) would be more than enough. Sure bots could trash the site, but it would be too slow and painful for the average spammer.
  • I don't publish the logs on my very small, low-traffic site and I get quite a bit of this as well. All of the non-legitimate referrers on my site seem to be weblogs. No porn so far. I just ignore them. Referrer stats are the least useful part of my logs anyway.
  • links to resumes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by displague (4438)
    I would like to know who goes around posting links to their resumes as referers to your website?

    Is it the people looking for jobs, or is it some resume posting service? I get about a half-dozen of these per month.
  • MovableType Blogs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceejayoz (567949) <cj@ceejayoz.com> on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @01:11PM (#7570041) Homepage Journal
    It's becoming a rather large problem on MovableType blogs. Apparently, the spammed referrers are usually fake blogs, that are front sites to get a porn webcam link high in Google PageRank.

    http://echo.ashpool.org/blog/305/ [ashpool.org]
    http://www.idly.org/2003/11/14/porn_sites_hiding_b ehind_blogs.php [idly.org]
    http://www.jayallen.org/comment_spam/2003/11/alert _referral_spamming [jayallen.org]
    • Re:MovableType Blogs (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @05:30PM (#7572695)
      Fortunately, Google is working on this problem. [slashdot.org]

      As for solving the issue of false referrers, why not just modify where the referrer ends up based on whether the specified referring page actually has a link to you or not. The distributed effects of zillions of bloggers all spamming the spam site with automated HTTP requests should be enough to dissuade the spammers from continuing :)

      • OK... I'll bite.. How do you tell if the page actually has a link to you without trying to fetch the page and seeing if there's a link? This gets particularly interesting when you deal with content generated on the fly - there's a very good chance that my Slashdot page has links on it that aren't on yours, for instance, and which also won't be on the page your proposed automatic verifier will get if it blindly chases the Referer: URL back.
  • by Anm (18575) on Wednesday November 26, 2003 @03:07PM (#7571462)

    I would think that it would easy enough to send a spider to the referrer page and search for the referred page. If you don't find it, delete it from the log. In fact, you wouldn't even need the spider because the link should be the exact page anyway.

    This also becomes a means to maintain the blacklists other have mentioned.

    Isn't this simple to do?
  • by sploxx (622853)
    Thanks for pointing out that this is spam!
    I also get these "referers".

    The sad thing is, that it is nowadays half-criminal to do a ping/traceroute to a certain host (Considered preparing an attack) but these spammers can generate their high volume(!) traffic, out of every RFC borders, and don't get problems at all.
  • "A quick google search on the words "referrer spam" confirmed my suspicions, this was indeed a widespread practice, and not new at all. In fact, Wired had an article on the subject dating almost a year back."

    Thats not clue enough that maybe your lack of knowing about this isn't newsworthy?
    • "A quick google search on the words "referrer spam" confirmed my suspicions, this was indeed a widespread practice, and not new at all. In fact, Wired had an article on the subject dating almost a year back."

      Thats not clue enough that maybe your lack of knowing about this isn't newsworthy?

      My lack of knowing about it may also be an indication of this being a legitimate issue despite of being less than common knowledge. By managing to get this article published I may have raised public awareness of this
  • Apparently I was linked by a porn site... I also got my first comment spam today, from a Turkmen guy... Deleted it anyway... =)
  • For those of you who don't fully understand the problem. You have to understand how google works a little, or at least one major point.

    Google considers that if someone links to your site, you're probably better than someone who has nobody/less people that link to their site.

    (If anyone has more detailed info on this, please feel free to post a reply)

    One of the main reasons why spammers are stuffing their urls into your referrer logs is to boost their page rank in google. To combat that, google has a

  • With all the unforeseen problems of email spam, web links, blogs, etc., it's clearly time to

    Throw out the internet and start over.

    PS. Does this mean we have to curse Tim B-L [w3.org] in the same breath as Microsoft?

    • Unfortunately, as long as everyone has rights to post on the internet (in one way or another), somebody is going to abuse that priviledge. Since when are HTTP Referrer logs considered good content. You don't really have control over what goes into those logs anyway. We need to find more ways of filtering out bad content. It's like free speech. Ham radio and usenet have their share of nuts. Most people don't turn to those places for news. We tend to filter information on our own.
      • I'm in violent agreement about needing ways to filter bad content, but not about filtering info on our own. Usenet not only has its share of nuts, its signal/noise ratio is awful. So isn't Slashdot a way of addressing that shortcoming, by having top-level stories moderated by trusted users, and comments trusted by experienced ones, allowing people to filter not just by reading stuff but by automatically avoiding stuff?

        Lest anyone think this is offtopic, let me point out that Slashdot has in some sense

  • Not only blog software is intended do present referrers even blog meta sites like

    http://www.bloogz.com/ [bloogz.com]

    shows referrers on their starting page. The only good thing about it is that they have to provide a working URL to get "return on investment".

    I found this site in my blog-referrer stats, but I dont know if they crawled me or if my blog-provider sends information about new blogs to them....

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