Taking the Fight to Internet Spammers

spamThe Internet is great for many things, but among its many downsides are spammers. Those are the people who get onto sites or send us email about fake designer handbags, fake prescription drugs, fake girlfriends and fake $100-an-hour jobs. I guess just enough people fall for these that spammers continue to send them to us, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after … well, you get the idea.

Anyone who has a website will tell you that keeping spammers out of your site is a never-ending problem. As the antispam controls get better, the spammers find new ways to get through the door.

If spammers put as much thought into something useful in life, we’d have a better society. But they don’t.

Spammers, phishers, “dark web” hackers = criminals.

A few months ago, I launched a photography discussion forum. It took just a few days until the first spammer arrived. I used some anti-spammer controls, and they worked. Or so I thought.

By the third month, I was seeing two spammers a day come in. They all are from the same place in China. But because they used different IP addresses, it was impossible to ban by IP address.

They were easy to spot. Random user names using all consonants and now vowels and email addresses that clearly were randomized by a bot – not a human being. That’s a spambot – a computer robot control that registers onto a site and then craps on your site.

This clearly required a better tool for the job.

After a week of reading up on the issue, I learned something.

The Captcha image that we all hate doesn’t work. Catcha was the primary way that a number of sites used to blocked spambots. It required people registering for a site to read a number that was superimposed on a background, almost making it unreadable. But the criminals got busy and figured out how to separate the numbers and letters from the background – something that most humans couldn’t do. Like I said, if criminals spent as much time putting their efforts toward good, the world would be a much better place. But again – they don’t.

What I learned is that you need to use as many tools as you can, so that if they get past one electrified fence, the second gets them and if that one doesn’t, then they get zapped by the third.

Here’s the rub. There are some controls that do such a good job that they keep out everyone, including your audience. You need to keep things easy for your users while making life as difficult as possible for spammers.

I’m not going to offer too many details, because like a magician, you don’t reveal the secrets of the trade.

Suffice to say that I’ve put a few new controls into place that seem to have done the trick.

If you visit my forum at http://photographytoday.net/forums/ and register, you’ll see my first line of defense.

For my first control, I am using a Q&A challenge. Some people ask a question, but what sites have learned is that a spambot will take that question and execute a Google search, get the answer and slip past your electronic sentry.

None of these will block a human spammers, because they aren’t intended to block humans. Luckily, human spammers are far outnumbered by spambots. And when the human spammer does make his criminal move, you simply squash him like a cockroach under your boot.

What I also know is that some day, this won’t be enough, and I’ll need to find another way to block the spambots. You have to stay on top of your game to keep one step ahead of the spammers. That’s just the reality of the Internet.

By the way, if you do visit my forum, feel free to browse and join a conversation. You are most welcome to do so. But only if you are not a spammer.

Film photography

Rolleiflex SL35 camera
Rolleiflex SL35 camera

One of the things that I like about “real” cameras is that they don’t deliver instant results.

With film photography, there is always a wait, especially with older cameras, such as the one here. This camera has no autoexposure, so you must first meter the scene and then set the shutter speed and aperture (lens opening).

After making sure that you’ve advanced the film, which tensions the shutter, you focus and press the shutter release at the precise moment. If you want to take a second photo, you must advance the film to the next frame and repeat the process. It’s a deliberate process in that every part of it requires you to think and be aware, and you are limited to 36 shots.

After you finish the roll of film, you have to rewind it and have it processed. If it’s black and white film – yes, you can still buy black and white film – I will take it home and either develop it right away or slip the roll into a drawer and hopefully get to it sometime within the next three months. If it’s color film, it will either go to a drug store or sent via mail order to Dan’s Camera City in Allentown, Pa, , which does excellent work.

These days, after I develop the film, I then start the task of scanning it into a digital form. If there is a shot that I really like, I will then make a real print in the bathroom, which can double as a darkroom/enlarging station at night.

It’s a lengthy process and one that I don’t mind. As the world gets ever faster and more instant, it’s nice to slow down and take part in something that requires your undivided attention.

About the camera: This is a Rolleiflex SL35. It was the first in a series of single-lens reflex cameras using 35mm film. The earliest cameras were made in Germany before Rollei shifted production to Singapore. This particular camera was made in Singapore and is mechanically identical to those made in Germany. Cameras and lenses made in Germany usually command a higher price these days. The lens is the f/1.8 50mm Carl Zeiss Planar. Zeiss has often said that the Planar was the most plagiarized lens design in history. Most 50mm lenses are based on the Planar.