Preventing unwanted spam¶
It’s an unfortunate fact of this day and age that any system which is easy for a real user to register, log on to and post information to will also be easy for unwanted spammers to do the same, unless we proactively take steps to stop them. This page provides information for those administering a Drupal website for Indicia regarding the prevention of spam. There are 3 things we need to consider in our prevention of spam:
- Unwanted user registrations
- Unwanted content additions
- Unwanted record submissions
Unwanted user registrations¶
We’ll tackle this issue first, because once you are in control of the users of your site it will make tackling the other forms of spam that much simpler. Let’s take a look through some of the options available.
Drupal’s user settings¶
Drupal’s user settings (User management > User settings on the admin menu) has several options for configuring user settings.
Buy default, note that visitors can create accounts and no administrator approval is required, plus they don’t need to verify their email address. For a public facing site it makes little or no sense not to tick the Require e-mail verification when a visitor creates an account box, which means that when a user registers, their account only becomes useable after they respond to an email sent to their email address, proving they are the owner of the email address. This also helps to prevent accidental entry of incorrect emails and does not hugely increase the complexity of the registration process so is well worth doing.
For your site to be able to send out emails correctly, the web server needs to be
configured appropriately. You can also set the email address the website uses to send
emails, at Site configuration > Site information on the admin menu. Make sure that
the email address you use is from the same domain as the website, because using a
different domain is likely to cause emails to be blocked by spam checkers so they will
not reach the recipient. For example, if your website is
then a suitable email address might be
If you want users to be able to register on the site and immediately submit records, then the set of 3 radio buttons above the email verification checkbox need to be left at the default setting. However if you are operating a controlled access website where you know the list of recorders and can pre-register them, then ticking the first option Only site administrators can create new user accounts does completely prevent spam user registrations since the user registration pages are simply not reachable to new users. A slightly less draconian option is the third one, Visitors can create accounts but administrator approval is required, though this of course incurs the overhead of checking through registrations and also means that new users cannot access the site until approved, which might be considered frustrating.
Spam prevention modules¶
If the options for administrator registration or approval are not appropriate for your site, then unfortunately this means that Drupal’s inbuilt options will not be able to prevent spam user registrations. You can of course check through the registrations and remove them, but this is labour intensive and it may well be too late if the spammer has already posted a forum post or a comment on a page, for example. This is where being part of the huge Drupal ecosystem has its benefits - there are literally thousands of other websites facing the same problems with the same technologies and hundreds of developers keen to solve them. Fortunately some of these solutions have been wrapped as easily installable Drupal modules which you can easily install.
In our experience, though not 100% effective, the Spambot module does prevent the majority of spam user registrations and does not make the registration process more complex to the normal user, so is a good first choice.
Captcha and reCaptcha¶
The Drupal Captcha and reCaptcha modules both implement a challenge-response extension to the Drupal registration page. By displaying a graphical image of a code which is intentionally difficult for machine to read and asking the user to type this code into a box, the idea is that non-human submissions can be prevented. Unfortunately obscuring the code enough to prevent machine reading can often make the code hard for a human to read.
In our experience, the Captcha approach to preventing spam registration will not prevent all unwanted registrations and will also put off some users, so we would not recommend it as a first option to try.
The Drupal Spamicide module takes a different approach to the challenge response modules mentioned above. Rather than ask the user registering to do something which proves they are human, the Spamicide module does the reverse - it tricks the automated registrations performed by spambots into doing something which proves they are not human. Spam registrations will normally fill every single field on a web form before submitting the form. So, Spamicide adds a hidden input control to the form which a spambot will inadvertently fill in, thus announcing itself as non-human.
In our experience, Spamicide does reduce the number of spam registrations but quite a few still get through.
Although not specifically an anti-spam solution, Login Toboggan does have a number of useful facilities for improving and managing the login process, including the facility to automatically remove user registration attempts where the user has not completed the registration after a configurable time period. This can save the manual task of removing unused user registrations created by spambots that did not provide a valid email address.
The Honeypot module works in two ways – a honeypot method and a timestamp-based method. These methods are effective against many spam bots, and are not as intrusive as CAPTCHAs. Spam bots are drawn towards form fields – they like to fill them all in. The Honeypot method basically inserts a hidden form field to Drupal (or other) forms with a field name like “homepage” (you can set it to whatever you want). End users don’t see the field, so they don’t fill it out. But spam bots (usually using prewritten scripts) do see the field (usually), and add something to it. The Honeypot module detects this and blocks the form submission if there’s something in the field. Additionally, the Honeypot module adds in a Timestamp-based deterrent. Usually, forms take at least a few seconds to fill out when a human is entering data into them — especially surveys, user registration forms, etc. Spam bots try to fill out as many forms as they can in as little time as possible, so they will often fill out a form within a couple seconds at most. The Honeypot module requires at least 5 seconds to pass (by default - you can adjust this too!) before a form can be submitted.
The greatest advantage of the Honeypot method is that the user is given no extra obstacles to completing a form. In our experience, though not 100% effective, the Honeypot module does prevent the majority of spam user registrations. Adapted from Midwestern Mac, LLC
Unwanted content additions¶
Your site may not be set up to allow any form of editing by registered users, since you are likely to control access to things like the facility to add, edit and delete pages using Drupal’s role based permissions system. However, if your site does allow user submitted content, which includes the ability to comment on a page as well as to post on a forum, then you need to consider how to prevent user registrations from posting spam before you have had a chance to ban them. In planning your site its worth considering the following points:
- Do I need to allow people to post this type of content immediately after registration, or can they wait till an administrator has approved them (perhaps by granting them a Drupal role)?
- If they do need to be able to post content such as forum posts immediately after registration, then you could consider one of the above modules for preventing spam usage of the forms for posting content as well as the forms for user registration.
Unwanted record submissions¶
Although theoretically possible, in our experience spambots do not understand enough about the record submission process to actually submit records so this is unlikely to be a problem. For example, they don’t know how to correctly format a grid reference or click to set a point on the map. If you do find this to be a problem then we recommend you post a message on the forum so that we can look at integrating a solution into the Indicia toolkit.