Web Spam on University Sites

If you’ve ever seen someone make the argument that search engines treat web sites with a .edu address as a “trusted” site, or even made the argument yourself, it’s probably worth taking a look at some university pages using a Google “site” operator. For example:

The registrar of .edu domain names is Educause, and they do have some strict guidelines involved in handing out domain names that use a .edu top level domain (tld). The problem comes about when universities let discussion boards lay fallow for a few years – boards that anyone can use – and people start spamming those. Here’s a list of some of the schools that I’m seeing with Web spam on them:

  • Stanford University
    - http://geant4-hn.slac.stanford.edu:5090/HyperNews/public/get/hnannounce.html
  • Bryn Mawr
    - http://forums.brynmawr.edu/viewforum.php?f=28
  • University of Pennsylvania
    - gsc.upenn.edu/swd/images/cialis.php
  • Purdue University
    - epics.ecn.purdue.edu/resources/?Cialis-drug/ (uses redirect)
  • Cal State San Marcos
    - http://courses.csusm.edu/lbst301by/1999-2f/_disc6/00002b4d.htm
  • Temple University
    - http://courses.temple.edu/psych170disc/_disc1/00001416.htm
  • University of Dallas
    - http://dante.udallas.edu/edu5323/_feedback/00001245.htm
  • Ohio State University
    - http://www.coe.ohio-state.edu/gnewell/_disc2/00002f60.htm

Many of the university pages being spammed are forums and discussion boards that don’t require registration, and haven’t been actively used in a few years. It would be great to see these schools clean those pages up, and maybe require registration for people who want to post to them – perhaps even the use of a valid university email address.

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17 thoughts on “Web Spam on University Sites”

  1. This is a frustratingly constant problem…so many university websites have constantly transitional audiences. Started and enthusiastically participated in for a few years, then the founders graduate, and even though enthusiasm may not wane, the passwords and original creation of the web information is lost.

    I sometimes feel that universities need much more significant webmastering – not necessarily for content control, but simply for tracking maintenance information. Is the person who established this forum still with the university? Who is participating in it?

    University sites seem particularly susceptible to these slow deaths.

  2. Absolutely agree, Joe.

    Many of these discussion boards or forums that I looked at were left unused for a good number of years and were formed for a single class for a single semester.

    It is an issue of responsible webmastering. I wouldn’t want to see less discussion boards, but maybe more secure ones – and once they were no longer needed – make it impossible to post something new.

    I was happy to see my local University start a classified site last year which was limited to posts from students and staff with valid university email addresses. But a site search for the school shows at least one abandoned board filled with spam.

  3. Thanks, Chris.

    I did a viagra search on .mil sites a couple of minutes ago, and it returned 304 results, with only one appearing to be a case of guestbook spam. The rest were legitimate pages about medicinal uses of the drug. It was good to see. :)

  4. You know, I have detected comment spammers pointing links at .edu sites (with their spam pages, of course). I have contacted two of the universities involved and have not received an answer.

    There has to be a much more noticeable and impactful (if there’s a word) way to let the universities know about the problem? Write about it in some scientific journal or something?

  5. I picked up on this page recently – http ://www. pe.wvu.edu/ usefulsites. htm. Looks like a professor (or a shady university webmaster) might be aiming to make a little bit of money off their link juice. Pretty funny – it does make you wonder if the university is aware that someone is profiting from their link juice.

  6. I think that’s probably more innocent than that, James. It looks like the last time that page was updated was 11/11/2002.

    And I’ve seen lots of pages from professors just like it, throughout the 90s, which pointed to sites that they truly believed were useful.

    Now some of those sites might belong to friends or relatives or are just sites that he used once or twice and wanted to make it easy to find again.

    It’s just not in the same class as the discussion board set up for an 1999 English 468 class on Milton that has hundreds of posts made in the last month pointing or redirecting to pill sites.

  7. I run a music website which is under constant attack… My calendar is constantly barraged by spambots, 75% of which are from university domains and subdomains.

    Perhaps Educause could try to enlighten their clients a bit?

    Mike

  8. Hi Mike

    Do you think that Educause would take the initiative to pursue something like that? I’m not sure that they would see it as part of their role, but I wouldn’t mind if they did.

  9. That’s pretty creative actually, I had never thought to search for .edu’s with those terms in them. It appears that they are all forum posts, most of which have thankfully been cleaned up. I have also seen many student run blogs that become overrun with spam comments (1000+).

  10. Hi Bookmarking Demon,

    Thanks. I haven’t checked back on these searches in a while. It’s good to hear that many have been cleaned up. Shame about the student blogs – wish their professors and universities would discuss spam and moderation with them.

  11. This is a criminal business of Russian webmaster hampers efficiency of many domains in the zone. Edu, unfortunately, even those dealing with children. measure to account for this and simply renew their work sites for many attacks.

    sorry for my english

  12. Hi Hujau,

    I do wish universities took more care and control over their networks. I wish this kind of web spam was brought under control. A recent couple of searches on Google for the drug names mentioned above showed 4 or 5 out of the top ten results as .edu sites.

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