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How to Prevent Form Spam Without Captchas 272

UnderAttack writes "Spam submitted to web contact forms and forums continues to be a huge problem. The standard way out is the use of captchas. However, captchas can be hard to read even for humans. And if implemented wrong, they will be read by the bots. The SANS Internet Storm Center covers a nice set of alternatives to captchas. For example, the use of style sheets to hide certain form fields from humans, but make them 'attractive' to bots. The idea of these methods is to increase the work a spammer has to do to spam the form without inconveniencing regular users."
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How to Prevent Form Spam Without Captchas

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  • And how... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:36PM (#16770691)
    Ok, so captchas and other email obfuscation mechanisms are used a lot. Fine, a web designer can choose to do this.

    Now, lets enter US law: American with Disabilities Act. Target [] is currently being sued for NOT complying with this federal law. I can understand why businesses would be required for this, but where will the net-boundaries stop?

    For example, I have a US corp. I hire an offshore datacenter to handle web processing. Is my website have the compulsory ADA lawss upon it, or do they not apply due to international boundaries? Yipe.
  • Javascript (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:39PM (#16770757)
    I hadn't read the article yet, and just the summary, and as soon as they said 'hidden fields' that are attractive to spambots, I thought "Why not hide the fields from the spambot instead?"

    It's easy, you just have the javascript create all or part of the form. Or modify the form in some way. It would happen before the user even sees the form, and the spambot would have to implement a javascript parser to get it. (Or a parser, that's unique to your site.)

    I would think AJAX would be a huge hamper to them as well.
  • field name encrypt (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Inmatarian ( 814090 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:43PM (#16770835)
    Private Key encrypt the randomized field names and have a hidden Public Key field. That way, the fields foo, bar, and abacab have no sense of meaning to the bots, but will decrypt to subject, body, and spammer catcher.
  • by Thansal ( 999464 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:54PM (#16771063)
    I actualy like the ones like that.

    instead of obfuscated images, just put in plain text questions.
    What is 2+2?
    What is the 3rd word in this sentance?
    What is the name of my blog?

    All of these can be answered by some one using a screen reader, and take less time then figguring out a captch. Sure it does not stop manual spamming, but what does?
  • by DittoBox ( 978894 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:58PM (#16771127) Homepage
    Many that I've seen recently actually have an audio key to listen too if you can't read the image.
  • by thejrwr ( 1024073 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @01:58PM (#16771131) Homepage
    Mxing the Form order up would help too, as the bot maker could just look at the order of the fields,
  • My Method (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:01PM (#16771211) Homepage
    My Method is to just disallow posting of html. I have a simple blog, and if they try to do anything like post too many HREFs or or something, then I just deny the post. That seemed to work for the most part. The bots usually tried to post URLs on my site, so if they posted something like <a href=.... then I would just display an error message, since html doesn't show up properly anyway, because I encode the < and > with &lt; and &gt;. They also try posting [link]...[/link] which also doesn't work on my blog, so I just display an error message and let the user fix it. You can still post straight URLs, but that's not too good for spammers, because they usually want a link. I also stop people from trying to post more than 5 URLs in a single post, since I noticed the bots like to do that. I recently upgraded by blog to use AJAX to submit the comments. Adds an extra layer of protection against the bots, but I really haven't needed any since I added in the filters mentioned above.
  • Re:And how... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fprintf ( 82740 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:28PM (#16771687) Journal
    Just try taking their reserved parking spaces closest to the mall entrance and you will see just how "imposing" disabled people can be about it.
  • Another trick (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @02:48PM (#16772059)
    None of the spambots that attack my site fetch the comments page before trying to post. There's never (and I do mean never) a GET before a spambot's POST. So I have a hidden field with a meaningless name ("magic"), and the value is set to the server's current time. Comments with timestamps that are too old are ignored.

    To make it less obvious that the value is a timestamp, it's XORed with a random number (which is included in the form value) and eight random, meaningless bytes are thrown in for good measure. The end result is 32 seemingly-random hex digits--it looks just like a session ID.

    This technique certainly isn't going to fool a determined attacker, but no spammer is going to waste their time trying to figure it out.
  • by roscivs ( 923777 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:20PM (#16776479) Homepage
    Still, it's not that spammers are mass-OCR'ing images, it's that they actually get humans to enter the captchas, sometimes providing porn as a reward, but it's sometimes also a paid operation with goldfarming-style sweatshops.
    I disagree. I run a phpBB site that by default uses a really crappy CAPTCHA, fairly easy for bots to defeat. I was getting about two or three bots registering a day. I switched to using a different, more difficult CAPTCHA (but the URL etc. for the image was the same, only the algorithm for generating it changed) and immediately the spambots disappeared. Haven't had any for weeks.

    If the CAPTCHAs were being defeated by humans, there should have been no change. It had to have been spammers mass-OCR'ing images.
  • use dnsbls (Score:4, Interesting)

    by joost ( 87285 ) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:30PM (#16776645) Homepage
    Shameless plug! I developed a plugin for Ruby on Rails that uses DNSBLs to combat form spam. (begin shameless self promotion)

    dnsbl_check rails plugin []

    Basically what the plugin does is check clients against one or more DNSBLs. You might know them from mail servers. You see, it turns out that the forms are almost always abused by bots. These bots are quite well known. sbl-xbl from spamhaus catches 80% in my setup, spamcop catches the rest. You enable the plugin for key controllers and it really does work.

    (/end shameless self promotion) mod me down if you wish

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe