"Who is firstname.lastname@example.org? And why are they registering on my site?"
If the above looks familiar to you, you've come across one of the web's biggest problems; Spam. Spam can come in many forms, ranging from non-sensical comments on blog posts, to fake user details, but the query we receive the most here in Client Support is regarding registration spam.
This comprises of spurious accounts registered on websites with the intention of promoting a link to something not quite legitimate, a product/service for sale, or simply to post "clickbait" (content aimed at generating advertising revenue typically by using sensationalist headlines).
It is more commonly carried out by a "spambot", which is a computer programmed to find registration forms and fill them in, but can also be done by humans who are paid a small amount for every account they register, which can be difficult to combat.
It's a worldwide problem which will affect almost every website to some degree, depending on what tools are put in place to reduce it.
Should we do anything?
Spam accounts generally can't do any harm on your website, but can clutter up your registration list and cause annoyance to your website admins. If you are set up to receive an email notification every time a user registers an account, we can turn this off for you, or get it sent to someone else instead, so let us know if this is the main issue for you.
What can we do to reduce spam?
There are many methods and tools that a website can employ to reduce spam, including third party programs and "modules" (plugins for websites on specific platforms). The challenge is to make sure that the barrier put in place doesn't prevent genuine users from registering an account on your website.
In the past, we've used something called CAPTCHA (below) which presents a box of letters and numbers to users, and asks them to replicate it. If they can, they have proven that they must be human, and are allowed to proceed.
In recent years, however, as spambots have become more "intelligent", the CAPTCHA has become easier for the machine to "read" and work out, and the spam issue now requires a more intelligent solution in turn.
We've spent some time researching the best tool for the job, and are currently trialling a tool called Mollom which uses algorithms and a learning mechanism to recognise patterns in spam, email addresses and user details, and will block registrations it suspects to be spam, and increase in effectiveness over time. You can read more about how Mollom works here.
It's important to note that it's nearly impossible to block all spam completely, and trying to prevent it entirely will almost certainly be at the expense of genuine users who wish to register an account on a site.