Using your logs to help track down spammers and trolls

It seems like lately we’ve been talking more on this site about trolls and spam and other troublemakers than about anything else. I might as well document how I went about tracking down two recent incidents to see if they were related.
WordPress and b2 store the IP address the comment came from, as well as the comment and other information. The fastest way to get the IP address, assuming you haven’t already deleted the offensive comment(s), is to go straight to your SQL database.

mysql -p
[enter the root password] use b2database;
select * from b2comments where comment_post_id = 819;

Substitute the number of your post for 819, of course. The poster’s IP address is the sixth field.

If your blogging software records little other than the date and time of the message, you’ll have to rely on your Apache logs. On my server, the logs are at /var/log/apache, stored in files with names like access.log, access.log.1, and access.log.2.gz. They are archived weekly, with anything older than two weeks compressed using gzip.

All of b2’s comments are posted using a file called b2comments.post.php. So one command can turn up all the comments posted on my blog in the past week:

cat /var/log/apache/access.log | grep b2comments.post.php

You can narrow it down by piping it through grep a bit more. For instance, I knew the offending comment was posted on 10 November at 7:38 pm.

cat /var/log/apache/access.log | grep b2comments.post.php | grep 10/Nov/2003

Here’s one of my recent troublemakers:

24.26.166.154 – – [10/Nov/2003:19:38:28 -0600] “POST /b2comments.post.php HTTP/1.1” 302 5 “https://dfarq.homeip.net/index.php?p=819&c=1” “Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1.5) Gecko/20031007 Firebird/0.7”

This line reveals quite a bit: Besides his IP address, it also tells his operating system and web browser.

Armed with his IP address, you can hunt around and see what else your troublemaker’s been up to.

cat /var/log/apache/access.log | grep 24.26.166.154
zcat /var/log/apache.access.log.2.gz | grep 24.26.166.154

The earliest entry you can find for a particular IP address will tell where the person came from. In one recent case, the person started off with an MSN search looking for information about an exotic airplane. In another, it was a Google search looking for the words “Microsoft Works low memory.”

You can infer a few things from where a user originally came from and the operating system and web browser the person is using. Someone running the most recent Mozilla Firebird on Linux and searching with Google is likely a more sophisticated computer user than someone running a common version of Windows and the version of IE that was supplied with it and searching with MSN.

You can find out other things about individual IP addresses, aside from the clues in your logs. Visit ARIN to find out who owns the IP address. Most ARIN records include contact information, if you need to file a complaint.

Visit Geobytes.com IP Locator to map the IP address to a geographic region. I used the IP locator to determine that the guy looking for the airplane was in Brooklyn, and the Microsoft guy was in Minneapolis.

Also according to my Apache logs, the guy in Brooklyn was running IE 6 on Windows XP. The guy in Minneapolis was running Mozilla Firebird 0.7 on Linux. (Ironic, considering he was looking for Microsoft information.) It won’t hold up in a court of law, but the geographic distance and differing usage habits give at least some indication it’s two different people.

One thought on “Using your logs to help track down spammers and trolls

  • November 11, 2003 at 7:58 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for stepping through that, I never thought of trying that (though my site is under reconstruction so it isn’t a worry right now). I use Movable Type and I am sure I can generalize most of your b2 steps so I can do the same if and when necessary.

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