Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “spam”

Akismet and persistent spammer

For the last few days someone calling itself MichaelDes or MichaelDus has been desperately trying to post spam comments on one of my blogs, and I’ve been getting notifications of each attempt.

Normally such things are just marked as spam without any notification, so I’m wondering why the Akismet spam checker isn’t handling these in the normal way. Any other bloggers having problems with spam comments from MichaelDes?

I’ve set my mail reader to automatically delete the notifications, but I still have to go to the blog and mark the comments in the moderation queue as spam.

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Guptas’ troll armies trying to infiltrate Orthodoxy?

Some time ago I started a Facebook group for Orthodox Christians in South Africa to share news of events and happenings, so that people could learn about things that were happening in parishes other than their own.

Last week there was a flurry of requests from people wanting to join the group. Most of them were from outside South Africa, though they appeared to belong to several other Orthodox groups on Facebook.

Eventually I posted a request in some of those other groups asking that people not ask to join the Orthodoxy in South Africa group unless they had personal connections with the Church in South Africa, otherwise the South Africans in the group would soon be outnumbered by people from other places. There are plenty of worldwide groups they could join.

Some people from other places have joined the Orthodoxy in South Africa group and then post little devotional articles, which you then see several times a day, so that every Orthodox group on Facebook looks just the same, and you can’t see the real news for the padding, and eventually no one bothers to put any real news up at all.

For example, I heard rumours of a monastery being started in South Africa, but nobody said anything, even though several members of the group probably knew about it. That was real news, so why did no one in the group see fit fit to mention it? Why didn’t anyone post photos of it? Yet people post photos of monasteries on the other side of the world.

But something more sinister than devotional spammers has come up. On one of the groups where I pleaded with people not to ask to join the South African group unless they had real South African connections someone suggested that I Google “Putin’s troll army”

I Googled it and this came up — Invasion of the troll armies: ‘Social media where the war goes on’ | Media | The Guardian:

You can hire your own troll army if you have the cash. In 2011 the PR firm Bell Pottinger told undercover journalists that they could “create and maintain third-party blogs”, and spruce up Wikipedia profiles and Google search rankings. Indeed marketing has a rich history of so-called “astroturfing”, which is laying down fake grassroots. Take Forest, “the voice and friend of the smoker”, which at least admits in nearly invisible small print that it is paid for by the tobacco industry.

It’s that ubiquitous PR firm of Bell Pottinger again. PR firm Bell Pottinger ‘exposed’ as masterminding Gupta plots | The Citizen:

The extraordinary emails released on Sunday by both the Sunday Times and City Press have once again cast a light on the role played by British PR firm Bell Pottinger.

The firm dropped the family as clients last month in the wake of protests against their company for allegedly driving the attempt to repair the Gupta family’s image in South Africa.

Could it be that Gupta’s troll armies are trying to infiltrate our Orthodoxy in South Africa group? You’ve got to wonder when someone who asks to join says they live in Venezuela and come from Arizona, and belong to several Orthodox groups and 679 other groups on Facebook.

No one who joins that many Facebook groups can be legit, and I’m sure they don’t want to join the Orthodoxy in South Africa group- because they want to know about Benoni parish’s panigyri or the open day at Saheti School. It does make me wonder why they are members of all those other Orthodox groups as well.

Remember the 1990s TV series Pinky and the Brain, where in every episode they were planning to take over the world? Maybe Bell Pottinger have already taken over the world. Maybe they planted these trolls in all those other Orthodox groups on Facebook as well.

In South Africa Bell Pottinger came up with the phrase “white monopoly capital” as a diversionary tactic to try to take people’s minds off the dangers of Indian monopoly capital, where the Gupta family had their fingers in every pie. The ran a campaign of promoting naked racism, deliberately trying to stir up racial hatred in South Africa because they were paid by the Guptas to do so.

Maybe all this is turning me into a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but never forget the old adage: just because you’re paranoid it doesn’r mean that they aren’t out to get you.

Internet entropy

A couple of days ago our ADSL router was fried by lightning and we were offline for a couple of days until we could get and configure a new one. I wondered if we might be missing something important, but it turned out that we weren’t. What had piled up in our absence was not important communications, but a huge pile of “notifications” about utterly trivial things that were hardly communication at all.

There were notifications that several people had tweeted on Twitter, or that someone I didn’t know was following me on Twitter, or wanted to be my “friend” on Facebook. Eventually I’ll probably start getting notifications about notifications. Well actually they are already are, because Twitter itself is a notification.  This morning I deleted 144 spam comments on my other blogs most of them from something called “lista de emails”. There may have been some false positives there, but it’s too time-consuming even to scan the headings to see.

Web sites that were useful a few years ago have become less so. One of these is Technorati. It used to be useful for finding out what was going on in the blogosphere, and what people were blogging about. But no more. I already blogged about that about a year ago, see here Search Results Technorati | Notes from underground:

Back then it had stuff that interested me as a blogger. I could go there to find blogs and blog posts I was interested in. There used to be “Technorati tags”, and one could click on them to find who was blogging on what topics. If I was going to blog on a subject, I’d look up tags related to that subject, and if those blogs said anything interesting on the topic, I’d link to them.

Now, however, you can’t find stuff that you find interesting on Technorati. If you look at their tags page, for example, you can’t search for tags. They only show you the currently popular tags for the last month. Do not expect Technorati to give you what you like. You WILL like what Technorati gives you and tells you to like. There is a kind of arrogant authoritarian flavour to it.

I noticed that Technorati’s stats on some of my blogs had not been updated, including this one, so I checked to see why. It turned out that I didn’t have a full RSS feed turned on. In the interests of saving bandwidth, I had a partial feed, so that people could see the heading and first couple of paragraphs of of blog post. If they were interested, they could click on it and read the full thing. But Technorati wanted the full feed, even if no one reads it. So I turned it on. They responded with ” This site does not appear to be a blog or news site. Technorati does not support claiming of forums, product catalogs, and the like.”.

Well that’s nice to know. But I doubt that anyone is reading this non-blog anyway, so why am I writing this? No one will read it. No one will comment, except, perhaps, “lista de emails”

I looked at a friend’s Posterous blog the other day, and it had apparently been hijacked by someone posting fluff and incomprehensible garbage. Link-farms stuff.That’s why, when I moved this blog from Blogger, I did not delete the old one, and I disabled comments on it. Spammers love to post comments on abandoned blogs. Tip: If you get tired of an old blog, don’t delete it! If you delete it, the link farm people will move in and take over, enjoying all the traffic from old links, providing yet more junk to clog up the Internet.

I tried to post on my own Posterous blog, and it didn’t work. So I’ll probably abandon it. It has been taken over by Twitter, and lots of stuff doesn’t seem to work any more. My Tumblr blog used to provide an aggregate of my other blogs so it could be a place I could refer friends to who wanted to keep in touch. It also doesn’t work any more.

When Geocities stopped working, I moved my static web pages to Bravenet. But they’ve stopped working too. Go to one of my pages there and they just say that “This website is currently expired. If you have any questions, please contact technical support.” But there is no way of contacting “technical support”. None whatsoever.

So as a result there are a few thousand (or million) more dead links out on the Internet, where people say more and more about less and less. And actually it is not people saying it at all in most cases. It’s bots. The dormant predecessor of this blog at Blogspot still gets more readers than this one, though I ghaven’t updated it for months. And one of the biggest sources of traffic was a bot that told people how to get bots to write blog posts for them, so that they could make money from the web. I think that’s what may have happened with my friend’s Posterous blog. Snake oil, anyone?

Weird requests for blog guest posts

Over the last few weeks I’ve been inundated with weird requests from people offering to write guest posts on my blogs. The following is typical of these requests:

I’m getting in touch with you because I’m interested in writing an article
for your blog. I came across your blog post khanya.wordpress.com while
writing for a website on hospitality management – specifically the field’s
trend towards sustainability design. During my research, I’ve found that
incorporating green aspects to hotels, restaurants, and other service
industries has not only contributed to a healthier planet but in some
cases increased revenues.

Please let me know if you’d be interested in an article about both the
design and/or business aspects of sustainable design. Thanks, and I look
forward to hearing from you soon.

To begin with I just deleted them, but then they started sending me reminders, and asking for my response.

So I replied to a couple of these reminders, and asked for a sample of their proposed guest posts, and there was no response to that at all.

Has any one else been getting these offers?

Why would people offer to write a guest post, then remind you of the offer, and then when you take them up on the offer and ask to see the guest post, just not respond?

Are these people who have so much time on their hands that they have nothing better to do than waste other people’s time be generating needless correspondence?

Or are they just harvesting e-mail addresses for the purpose of spamming? If that’s the case, it seems a lot of trouble to go to — to insert the name of the blog and all.

Or is it some kind of hidden scam, like the messages I used to get a year or so ago inviting me to a conference in some US city and in Dakar, Senegal?

After getting several of those, I tried to find more about what it was about by sending enquiries asking for further information about these conferences, but none was forthcoming. I assume that the conferences were all bogus, but I wonder why someone would go to the bother of sending out invitations to bogus conferences. They don’t seem to be looking for any kind of response, because they never respond to the responses.

Another similar thing seemed to come from one persistent guy who called himself or herself Laure Norman. He said he had important information for me. Eventually I asked what the important information was, and the reply was that the important information was that there was important information. In the end I set up my e-mail program to simply bounce back anything received from that source, and I now see that my ISP (whose addresses this “Laure Norman” impersonated) is now marking it as spam at the server, so it never reaches me.

What puzzles me about all this, though, is what’s in it for the people who do it. They’re not asking for money, so there is no obvious scam involved. Does it give them some kind of satisfaction to waste other people’s time and bandwidth?

E-mail is becoming erratic and dysfunctional

It looks as though spammers are beginning to succeed in making e-mail useless.

Several people have told me recently that e-mail that I send to their Gmail addresses ends up in their spam box. That is something new. One of the things that I thought was good about Gmail in the past was that one never had to check the spam box, because there were so few false positives. But now it seems that one will have to look in the spam box for mail. And also, when sending mail to anyone with a Gmail address, also send a text message to say “Did you get my e-mail? If you didn’t, please check your spam box.”

But when I tested it by sending a message to my own Gmail address, it came through OK without going to spam.

I am quite unable to send e-mail to people who have iburst addresses though. It doesn’t even reach their spam box, it just bounces right back to me. The only way to communicate with them is through a direct message on Facebook, or SMS.

Oh well, I think I’m going to have to start buying stamps again.

Cairns, Queensland, spam capital of the world?

Is the town of Cairns, in Queensland, Australia, vying for the title of Spam Capital of the World?

It sure seems like it, to judge from the number of spam comments about it people keep trying to post on my blogs.

I always delete them before anyone sees them, so I don’t know why they bother, but it makes me wonder. It must really be a crummy dump if they have to pay spammers to publicise their town.

Still, I suppose being Spam Capital of the World must be better than remaining completely unknown, though even that title is probably beyond their reach.

Facebook Changes Again: Everything You Need To Know


I think Facebook began to go downhill when it introduced “apps” – third-party services of dubious usefulness that tended to be fragmented very often duplicated each other. And it looks as though this is going to get worse.

Facebook Changes Again: Everything You Need To Know:

Facebook apps need only ask permission once to share stories on your behalf. Although not as big a deal as the Timeline, this tweak may be one of the more controversial. Previously, apps had to ask every time they shared information about you in your profile. Now, the first time you authorize the app, it will tell you what it’s going to share about you. If you’re cool with that, the app never has to ask you again.

And that is why, if anyone invites me to something on Facebook, and it asks for access to information about my friends, I back out as quickly as possible.

The last one that caught me like that was a thing called “Branch Out”, which at first sight looked a bit like Linked-In.

If you joined, it asked which of your friends you would like to work with in various things. I went through it, thinking it might provide some useful, or at least interesting information at the end of this. It didn’t.

Instead, it spammed my friends with a thing on their Facebook “wall” saying that I had said something about them in “Branch Out”. But if they went to “Branch Out” they would never find out what I was alleged to have said about them — they would just be asked to answer a similar series of questions, the sole purpose of which was to collect information so that their friends could be spammed in turn.

In other words, the whole “Branch out” thing is a scam to collect information to spam people. And so it is with a lot of Facebook apps.

If you are one of my Facebook friends, you’ll probably see something like this:

Steve Hayes is using BranchOut on Facebook | Facebook.
14 minutes ago

Actually I was trying to see if there is any way of opting out or resigning from “Branch out”. There doesn’t seem to be.

I’m always presented with several “apps” relating to family history and genealogy, which are interests of mine. Two of the most insidious are MyHeritage and Geni.com. I actually encountered both outside of Facebook, but they too are traps for the unwary. You can see my criticisms of MyHeritage here, and Geni.com here.

I like Facebook for keeping in touch with people I know — friends and family, especially those who are far away or whom I havent seen for a long time. It’s useful for making contact with long-lost friends and acquaintances or recently-discovered members of one’s extended family. It’s good for seeing what people are up to. But that’s about it.

Kakangelism on steroids: the Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate

I first heard of the Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate only about half an hour ago, after reading about a fellow blogger, an Anglican priest in England, who had received a denunciatory spam message from them Nouslife: With ‘friends’ like this, who needs other faiths?.

I’d never heard of it before, so did a Google search for them, and discovered that they were a brand-new denomination or sect (they broke away from the Roman Catholic Church) founded last April, and that their main activity seems to be denouncing everyone they don’t like, which seems to be, well, everyone (except themselves, of course).

I came across someone else who had received their spam, who seemed to assume, erroneously, that this particular sect somehow represented Orthodoxy: Not Healing the East-West Schism | Sinaiticus:

Like many pastors and churches in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I recently received (7/15/2011) an e-mail from the Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate, condemning our denomination’s loosening sexual ethics for church leaders. It is apparent that they culled the Internet for e-mail addresses related to Presbyterian congregations and sent out a massive spam.

The author of that blog is concerned about their role in healing the East-West schism. I feel I can safely say that they are as relevant to healing the East-West schism as the Westboro Baptist Church, which they seem to most closely resemble.

I’m not sure what the “Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate” stands for, but it reminds me of the Pogo comics of 50 years ago, when Pogo was accosted by the founders of the newly formed Jack Acid Society, who were going around recruiting members, and also, more important, denouncing enemies.

Pogo asked, “What does the Jack Acid Society stand for?”

“We won’t stand for much, believe me.”

Telephone tapping and worse

One would think, with all the brouhaha about the closure of News of the World as a result of the telephone tapping scandal, that people might think twice about sending out spam e-mails like this

XCeptor – the ultimate spy software for mobile phones – you can install one REMOTELY to any phone around the world.

Now all you will need to do in order to get total control over a mobile (target) phone of a person of your interest is to send the special MMS to that target phone, which is generated by our unique Xsepter LOADER. This way you can get very valuable and otherwise un-accessible information about a person of your interest very easily.

All you will need to do is to install our unique Xseptic LOADER to your mobile phone and start its execution. You will get the dialog box on the display of your mobile phone and you will be requested to enter a phone number of a target mobile phone of a person of your interest. Afterwords you will choose SEND option in that dialog box. The Xseptoid LOADER will send the special MMS message to the target phone immediately and a person of your interest will have no idea that this special MMS message has been received by his phone. Our Xseptic software will be immediately installed to a target phone and it will be automatically configured for communication with your (source) phone. The special MMS message which has been used as the carrier of our Xsepter software from your (source) phone to a target phone will be automatically deleted then.

The example of use:

You will send the special MMS message containing our unique Xsepter software to a mobile phone of e.g. your girlfriend. In case your girlfriend will be using her (target) mobile phone, you will be provided by following unique functions:

In case your girlfriend will make an outgoing call or in case her (target) phone will receive an incoming call, you will get on your personal standard mobile phone an immediate SMS message about her call. This will give you a chance to listen to such call immediately on your standard mobile phone.

In case your girlfriend will send an outgoing SMS message from her (target) mobile phone or she will receive a SMS message then you will receive a copy of this message on your mobile phone immediately.

This target phone will give you a chance to listen to all sounds in its the surrounding area even in case the phone is switched off. Therefore you can hear very clearly every spoken word around the phone.

You will get a chance to find at any time the precise location of your girlfriend by GPS satellites.

All these functions may be activated / deactivated via simple SMS commands.

… wouldn’t one?

The name of the software has been changed to protect the guilty, but no doubt lots of unscrupulous journalists already know and use it.

My very own Internet stalkers?

I seem to have got my very own Internet stalkers, or perhaps I share them with a zillion other people.

I got an e-mail this morning, with the heading:

This is pretty interesting…

and it goes on to say:

Colin Bruce sent you a private message

I keep getting messages from this “Colin Bruce Milne” saying he wants to be my “friend” on this, that or the other social network. He sends me private messages to say that he has private messages for me. But I don’t know him, I’ve never actually talked to him or met him, he’s never left a comment on my blogs, which is quite easy to do.

So why does he want to be my friend if he never talks to me, except for sending me private messages to say that he has a “private message” for me?

It’s a bit like getting a slip from the post office asking you to call for a registered letter which tells you that you have a registered letter that tells you that you have a registered letter that tells you that you have a registered letter.

Why the infinite regress?

So I now find myself wondering if perhaps this “Colin Bruce Milne” is some kind of new internet species, the “professional friend”. Perhaps he’s not a real person, perhaps he’s a ‘bot. But if he is a real person, I now suspect that he gets paid a commission by conning people into joining social networks by inviting them to join the network in order to read a message to tell them that he has left them a message on another social network that they will have to join to read the message that says that he has left them a message on another social network, and if he gets enough people to join enough networks he’ll qualify for the grand draw for the grand prize of a weekend in a timeshare resort in Naboomspruit, listening to salesman wittering on boringly about the benefits of timeshare.

So perhaps he’s not my very own internet stalker, perhaps he’s stalking other people as well, having discovered a new way to propagate spam.

He’s not the only one, though.

There’s another one, who sends messages saying:

I have a message for you.
E-mail:oxfam_05@yahoo.gr
Regards,
Mr.John Erere

Same technique: send a message saying “I have a message for you”. Well, he obviously has my address, so I’m waiting for the message, and sure enough, a couple of days later it arrives:

I have a message for you.
E-mail:oxfam_14@yahoo.gr
Regards,
Mr.John Erere

What I really need is to find a way of introducing Colin Bruce Milne to Mr. John Erere.

I’m sure they’ll get on like a house on fire.

I could become a professional Internet friendship broker, introducing professional friends to each other, and possibly to my old friend, Mrs Mariam Abacha, from whom I haven’t heard for a long time. Perhaps I should forward the messages from Oxfam5 to Oxfam14 and vice versa, mutatis mutandis.

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