We Love Robots…But Not on Our Forums (Sorry!)

Even though I was in the middle of More Important Things (which, by definition is sort of…well, everything), it was that fourth forum spam message in six hours which sent me over the edge. Suddenly, the idea of retro-fitting our third-party (and incredibly hard to decipher) forum software with a CAPTCHA to help deter spam robots went from the “sometime where I get a few hours after Atlas’s release” timeframe to Right Bloody Now.

“CAPTCHA’s (“Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”) are those squiggly, hard-to-read sets of letters which are popping up more and more frequently in order to make it difficult to overwhelm forums and other systems with automated attacks. The theory goes that by requiring a human being to actually pause and decipher such letter codes, the spammers out there will find their productivity cut from being able to attack millions of systems per day to at best hundreds. More commonly, the automated scripts they employ will simply fail in their efforts and move on to the next system on their list.

I’m not in love with filling out CAPTCHAs myself, but I was really getting tired of deleting spam. On the bright side, it seems to have (temporarily) stopped cold the flood of new, patently bogus accounts which we’d see piling up in the forums as “pending approval”. (We’d always required new account owners to activate their accounts by clicking an email link–a simple measure which by itself would stop hundreds of bogus spam accounts per month). Adding a simple CAPTCHA at registration seems to have at least temporarily helped stop even more.

So, although anyone who knows us at all knows that we love robots here at Human Computing and Atomic Avenue, Spambots (and their dirtbag owners) are not at all welcome. There’s no stopping determined spammers who want to spend a lot of time posting messages, but when being a professional spam-creep depends on posting millions of bogus messages per day, it doesn’t make any sense to do it where it’ll take you longer to post the message than it will for the board owners to delete both the spam and your account.

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