Spam. That word for some conjures an image of a delicious breakfast “meat” enjoyed by millions. For others like Nicely Done Sites it is something to be avoided because of the cyber damage it can do to a website or a hosting domain. Today we will examine what spam can do, how it can stop it and we’ll look at a real world example seen recently by our hosting service.

What is Spam and what can it do?

The World Wide Web is seeing an epidemic of “bot spam” or “web crawler spam” and it is driving users and tech people alike crazy. These bots are programmed to search the Internet and find contact forms that are typically found on a Contact Us page, fill them in and send them to the email address that is set up to receive them. They can fill in thousands of forms in a day and they do not take a break.

The good news is that almost all of these are easy to spot, usually with a string of gibberish or advertisements included in the message. In small numbers they can be easily deleted. The bad news is that if they come in large numbers there can be very negative consequences.

How does Spam hurt?

When these emails are sent, especially in bulk whoever is administering the email server will see that a large amount of spam is being sent. They are not going to take the time to analyze it, they are just going to see the spam. All of the messages resolve to the same IP Address, yours. This could lead to your email address or IP Address being blocked (which would prevent legitimate messages from getting through) and the ability to send and receive email from within that same domain can also be restricted. Most email addresses have a certain number of emails that can be sent and spam messages can add up and easily surpass that allotment and quickly at that.

The problem though is much bigger than just your website or email address. A large amount of spam going through a hosting service can have an impact on others using that same service. When an IP Address is blacklisted it can have negative effects on the security of the hosting service (along with everyone else who has their website on that service), Search Engine Optimization and many many more things.

How can I stop Spam?

The easiest way to stop spam and the bots that send them is to prevent them from sending the messages in the first place. CAPTCHA is the easiest to implement and it forces a small amount of human interaction that a bot is incapable of doing. Without being able to complete the CAPTCHA test a spam message cannot be sent. Along the same lines a hidden form field can be inserted. These fields are invisible to humans but a bot will see them and fill something in identifying a message as spam and allowing it to be blocked.

To further help a timer can be set up for how long a form takes to fill out. A bot will fill the form out quickly, mostly in under two seconds. A human will not be able to do it as fast and thus these submissions can be identified as spam and blocked. There is also software that can be used to block spam from being sent but the danger is that legitimate messages can also be blocked.

Nearly every business website has some sort of email form or Contact Us page. You want people to contact your business after all. Human verification methods like CAPTCHA are not new, they have been around for decades and people are well used to them by now. Very few people grumble anymore when they have to hit a button that says “I am not a robot” or something like that to demonstrate that they are indeed a flesh and blood human being. Even if you do not want to do something simple like that on your page, consider doing it for others that are sharing the same server. They have done it for you and the consequences for all of you can be steep. Something as simple as a CAPTCHA form can do wonders.

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