Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Referrer Spam


Google's Blogger has a detailed analytical tool where you can check which countries are viewing your blog, which posts people read, and which URL addresses refer to your blog.  I like to check these statistics because I get excited when I see my blog caught the attention of one reader in Botswana, or that people enjoyed a post about capuchin monkeys.

But the last few weeks I've seen an unusual amount of traffic from the Ukraine. Curiously, folks in the Ukraine appear fascinated with a post I wrote about ant lions.  I figured it must be school kids writing a report, and who am I to get in the way of budding entomologists? But the number of pageviews or hits was just too high.  It was weird, and weird is suspicious.

So on my way to the Google Help area, I stopped to visit the user forums.  I read that others had experienced this problem, and that it is a new variant of spam I was unaware of.  It's called 'referrer spam.'  Here's how it works.

A spammer in Country X controls a computer in Country Y.  The computer in Country Y runs a program or script that automatically hits sites around the Internet (like your blog).  Google Statistics notes the pageview from Country Y and the URL address is listed as a referring URL.  When you go into the statistics for your blog, you notice the odd traffic, click on one of the mysterious referring URLs, and find a site full of Cyrillic letters and pornography.  The short version is that the spammers have gone to a fair amount of trouble to trick you into visiting one of their sites.

What should you do? First, don't click on those referring URL links.  Second, don't publish your referring URL sites or access logs.  If you put a list of these sites on your blog, a search engine may index them and give them a chance to spread even further.  Eventually, Google's Blogger team will figure out what's going on and block these sites, forcing the spammers to try somewhere else.

It's annoying, and I was disappointed when I realized that my daily pageviews had not doubled in the last month, but this sort of spam doesn't appear to be a serious threat.  And the good news is that even after I subtracted all the suspicious pageviews, chimpwithpencil was still making steady growth.  Thanks, readers. 

And remember, if you have a blog, don't click those shady links.

(Some of the information was first found in the Google Blogger forums, which led me to this site run by nitecruzr, which has a good explanation of the problem.  The photograph is of Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, which looks to be an interesting place.  The pic is from:  hotelinspector.com)

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