Published: 2015-01-04 07:58:30 -0500
To combat an influx of spam works, we are temporarily suspending the issuing of invitations from our automated queue. This will prevent spammers from getting invitations to create new accounts and give our all-volunteer teams time to clean up existing spam accounts and works. We will keep you updated about further developments on our Twitter account. Please read on for details.
We have been dealing with two issues affecting the Archive, both in terms of server health and user experience.
- Spammers who sign up for accounts only to post thousands of fake "works" (various kinds of advertisements) with the help of automated scripts.
- People who use bots to download works in bulk, to the point where it affects site speed and server uptime for everyone else.
Measures we've taken so far
We have been trying several things to keep both problems in check:
- The Abuse team has been manually banning accounts that post spam.
- We are also keeping an eye on the invitation queue for email addresses that follow discernible patterns and removing them from the queue. This is getting trickier as the spammers adjust.
- We delete the bulk of spam works from the database directly, as individual work deletion would clearly be an overwhelming task for the Abuse team; however, this requires people with the necessary skills and access to be available.
- Our volunteer sysadmin has been setting up various server scripts and settings aimed at catching spammers and download bots before they can do too much damage. This requires a lot of tweaking to adjust to new bots and prevent real users from being banned.
Much of this has cut into our volunteers' holiday time, and we extend heartfelt thanks to everyone who's been chipping in to keep the Archive going through our busiest days.
What we're doing now
Our Abuse team needs a chance to catch up on all reported spamming accounts and make sure that all spam works are deleted. Currently the spammers are creating new accounts faster than we can ban them. Our sysadmins and coders need some time to come up with a sustainable solution to prevent further bot attacks.
To that end, we're temporarily suspending issuing invites from our automated queue. Existing account holders can still request invite codes and share them with friends. You can use existing invites to sign up for an account; account creation itself will not be affected. (Please note: Requests for invite codes have to be manually approved by a site admin, so there might be a delay of two to three days before you receive them; challenge moderators can contact Support for invites if their project is about to open.)
We are working hard to get these problems under control, so the invite queue should be back in business soon! Thank you for your patience as we work through the issues.
What you can do
There are some things you can do to help:
- When downloading multiple works, wait a few moments between each download. If you're downloading too many works at once, you will be taken to an error page warning you to slow down or risk being blocked from accessing the Archive for 24 hours.
- Please don't report spam works. While we appreciate all the reports we've received so far, we now have a system in place that allows us to find spam quickly. Responding to reports of spam takes time away from dealing with it.
- Keep an eye on our Twitter account, @AO3_Status, for updates!
Known problems with the automated download limit
We have been getting reports of users who run into a message about excessive downloads even if they were downloading only a few works, or none at all. This may happen for several reasons that are unfortunately beyond our control:
- They pressed the download button once, but their device went on a rampage trying to download the file many times. A possible cause for this might be a download accelerator, so try disabling any relevant browser extensions or software, or try downloading works in another browser or device.
- They share an IP address with a group of people, one of whom hit the current download limit and got everyone else with the same IP address banned as well. This can be caused by VPNs, Tor software, or an ISP who assigns the same IP address to a group of customers (more likely to happen on phones). Please try using a different device, if you can.
We apologize if you have to deal with any of these and we'll do our best to restore proper access for all users as soon as possible!