Spam2.0: Fake user accounts and spam profiles

Friday, June 26, 2009

You're a good webmaster or web developer, and you've done everything you can to keep your site from being hacked and keep spam out of your forums and comment sections. You're now the proud owner of a buzzing web2.0 social community, filling the web with user-generated content, and probably getting lots of visitors from Google and other search engines.

Many of your site's visitors will create user profiles, and some will spend hours posting in forums, joining groups, and getting the sparkles exactly right on the rainbow-and-unicorn image for their BFF's birthday. This is all great.

Others, however, will create accounts and fill their profiles with gibberish, blatherskite and palaver. Even worse, they'll add a sneaky link, a bit of redirecting JavaScript code, or a big fake embedded video that takes your users off to the seediest corners of the web.

Welcome to the world of spam profiles. The social web is growing incredibly quickly and spammers look at every kind of user content on the web as an opportunity for traffic. I've spoken with a number of experienced webmasters who were surprised to find out this was even a problem, so I thought I would talk a little bit about spam profiles and what you might do to find and clean them out of your site.

Why is this important?

Imagine the following scenario:

"Hello there, welcome to our new web2.0 social networking site. Boy, have I got a new friend for you. His name is Mr. BuyMaleEnhancementRingtonesNow, and he'd love for you to check out his profile. He's a NaN-year-old from Pharmadelphia, PA and you can check out his exciting home page at

Not interested? Then let me introduce you to my dear friend PrettyGirlsWebCam1234, she says she's an old college friend of yours and has exciting photos and videos you might want to see."

You probably don't want your visitors' first impression of your site to include inappropriate images or bogus business offers. You definitely don't want your users hounded by fake invites to the point where they stop visiting altogether. If your site becomes filled with spammy content and links to bad parts of the web, search engines may lose trust in your otherwise fine site.

Why would anyone create spam profiles?

Spammers create fake profiles for a number of nefarious purposes. Sometimes they're just a way to reach users internally on a social networking site. This is somewhat similar to the way email spam works - the point is to send your users messages or friend invites and trick them into following a link, making a purchase, or downloading malware by sending a fake or low-quality proposition.

Spammers are also using spam profiles as yet another avenue to generate web