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This spammer is a Magnificent Bastard - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

This spammer is a Magnificent Bastard [May. 15th, 2012|11:21 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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I've watched with fascination as spam has grown more sophisticated over the years. This email I received earlier today is among the best I've seen:
Hello Arvind,

Are you the person responsible for adding web content to the following page: 33bits.org

I am one of a small group that recently began a comprehensive online project focused on educating interested people about computer science. The website started as something small and has since grown to include thorough resources on things like the PERL language, human-computer interaction, computer animation, and even the evolution of computer science as it intersects and changes musical technology. Most of all we aimed to make the project accessible and have seen it put to good use so far.

I'd love to share the resource with you -- would you be interested in checking it out, perhaps offering feedback, and exploring the domain? It would be such a pleasure to hear from you!

Olivia Leonardi

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.
Bill Gates
There are so many things to admire here — figuring out my name and email address from my blog (although that's very common these days), the fluent prose (by spam standards, of course), the touch of verisimilitude via the quote, and most of all, the reasonably good customization of topics mentioned to the topic my blog covers.

It would be very impressive if this operation were fully automated, but I suspect there is some human involvement here, simply because that's probably cheaper.

I get enough spam because of my blog that it's obvious at a glance that it's spam, but I bet it's good enough to fool a lot of people. It would work even better if they added a check to make sure they don't send more than one to the same author. Here's another one I got; you can see the impressive degree of customization:
Hi Arvind,

I am curious if you are the person responsible for adding content to the following page: 33bits.org/2009/12/02/the-entropy-of-a-dna-profile

If not, feel free to forward me on to the correct person! I came across your page during my research for a project for which I am contributor. It is a research project that examines how biology has evolved from being a scientific study into a practice that has the power to affect global change for the better. The recently completed resource offers articles with an insightful look for anyone considering or currently in the biology field.

I would love to send over more details about this project and partner with you, let me know!

Thanks for your time. I look forward to working with you!

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit. - Aristotle
I wonder what's the play here — to get people to contribute articles to a spam site? Or just link to them? Either way, as much as I hate spammers, I can't help but wish this one good luck :-)

Comments on Google+

[User Picture]From: hukuma
2012-05-15 06:39 pm (UTC)
I wonder if the second one is trying to get you to contribute to a content farm. In any case, these are indeed very well done. BTW, have you seen the translation SEO scam? The people I've seen running them aren't quite as polished, though I think they are also human-generated.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2012-05-15 06:43 pm (UTC)
I haven't heard of the translation SEO scam, but Google turned up this. If that's what you're referring to, it's quite clever :)
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[User Picture]From: hukuma
2012-05-15 07:49 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's it. I've gotten a version of it, and a few of my colleagues have as well.
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[User Picture]From: elseware
2012-08-06 07:43 am (UTC)

Spamity Spam

Thanks for this, I got one of these spams this morning and it was sharp enough I thought in might be genuine. It had correct spelling and adequate grammar but the phrase "on this topic" screams mail-merge to me.


Hi Chris,

I happened upon your blog post http://data.totl.net/xkcd.rdf as I was conducting research for a computer science resource and wanted to submit an article for your blog. My resource focuses on how people can learn computer programming and web coding through various channels available today.

Like I mentioned, I'd love to write an article for your blog on this topic. Please let me know if you'd be interested in working with me. Thanks for your consideration, and I hope to hear from you soon.


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[User Picture]From: elseware
2012-08-06 07:45 am (UTC)

when spam filters fail

I left a comment on this blog quoting one of the spams this person sent me today. Unsurprisingly, it got caught by the blog's spam filter. In retrospect that does seem rather obvious.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2012-08-06 08:22 am (UTC)

Re: when spam filters fail

Heh. No worries, I unspammed you.
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