Spammers are getting a lot better at using our web 2.0 tools against us and they don't have to hack our Wordpress and Blogger blogs anymore to turn them into zombie advertising billboards (although there's certainly a lot of that happening as well). Vancouver-based Pacific Coast Information Systems Ltd. President Vaclav Vincalek notes that a lot of the spam that ends up in his email these days directs back to blogs and profiles on large, trusted websites that have started to include stripped-down blogging functionality for their users.
The IT consulting and security-focused services company received spam linking to the popular my.NBC.com site just in the last 72-hour period, along with other links to sites like Windows Live Spaces and ClubPlanet.com.
"myNBC.com is a trusted, reputable website, so people may be more likely to click on the link, which went to a profile that was just a pharmaceutical spam ad," Vincalek says. "But anyone who clicked to get to that profile page could infect their organization's computer network, causing huge problems."
After visiting the spam blog site, it is possible that the visitor may be redirected to hacked sites by malicious code, even when attempting to visit other trusted sites.
An obvious side-effect of these tactics is that people will just stop using sites that allow this to go on. Site owners may be diligent about deleting spam profiles and spam blogs (and in the myNBC.com case, the profile was deleted in under 48 hours), but being reactive rather than proactive may not cut it. To wit, 66 percent of the 972 social networking users polled in a recent study by Cloudmark said that they would be at least "somewhat likely" to switch to a different social network if they received a significant number of "unwanted, or spam, friend invitations, messages, or postings". Clearly, if your favorite website becomes squatter territory for spammers, that ain't good for the site's business.
The owners of the world's largest spammer organization were ordered to close down operations this week by a US judge (ProPortal.com). Maybe it will put a dent in the spam industry for a week, but if we want to really smack down the annoying spammers, we'll need to think about ways of hitting them where they live: on the most popular sites people like to go to.