I found a sneaky type of spambot this morning. It was impersonating regular commenters on Speed Force, using their names and (at first glance) email addresses to blend in.

The names weren’t terribly surprising, but the email addresses were. Where had it gotten them? WordPress shouldn’t reveal them, unless there’s a bug somewhere. Was one of my plugins accidentally leaking email addresses? Had someone figured out a way to correlate Gravatar hashes with another database of emails?

As I looked through the comments, I realized that in most cases, it wasn’t the commenter’s usual email address. Here’s what the spambot was doing:

  1. Extract the author’s name and website from an existing comment.
  2. Construct an email address using the author’s first name and the website’s domain name.
  3. Post a comment using the extracted name, the constructed email, and a link to the spamvertised site.

The actual content (if you can call it that) of the comments was just a random string of numbers, and the site was a variation on “hello world,” leading me to suspect that it might be a trial run. Certainly they could have been a lot sneakier: I’ve seen comment spam that extracts text from other comments, or from outbound links, or even from related sites to make it look like an actual relevant comment.

I’d worry about giving them ideas, but I suspect it’s already the next step in the design.

Update: They came back for a second round, this time here at K2R, and I noticed something else: It only uses the first name for the constructed email address, but does so naively, just breaking the name by spaces. This is particularly amusing with names like “Mr. So-and-so,” where it creates an address like mr@example.com, and pingbacks, where the “name” is really the title of a post.

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