Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Forum's Future

At the end of this post is a comment box where people can add their views about the spamming incident. Anyone can comment, but in an effort to prevent further abuse, the comments will only be published after being approved, so I am afraid there will be some delay before they go live.

The Forum's Future

In the early hours of Saturday 9 September, someone registered for the Brookmans Park Newsletter Forum with the user name of Colin Farrell.

Whether or not that was the person’s real name is not known to us.

The new user then proceeded to sent instant messages containing adult, pornographic material to all 670 forum members. Half a dozen forum posts containing obscene images were also created.

We took the indecent images down as soon as one of our moderators spotted them, but, unfortunately, once the messages were sent out, there was no way we could retrieve them.

As a result, many innocent forum members were exposed to adult images and links.

The Brookmans Park Newsletter can only apologies, unreservedly, for this incident.

We have since closed the forum and have been replying to the dozens of complaints that have been pouring in since the incident.

I have to say that once I explained the circumstances to those who complained, their follow up response was one of full support and backing. Such is the richness of the community that has built up around the Brookmans Park Newsletter Forum over the years.

Two forum members have asked for their profile to be deleted from the database, and this has been done. They both know they are free to join again at any time. Communicating with them over this issue has been a warm and refreshing experience.

The Brookmans Park Newsletter is non profit-making community venture supported by volunteers.

It is not pre-moderated but is post-moderated by a great group of local volunteer moderators who help keep an eye on the site. We also use reactive moderation (where we take action having been alerted by a users who has expressed concern about, or been offended by, something that appears on the forum).

Our volunteer moderators come from a variety of backgrounds. They do not work shifts and we share the load based on the philosophy of ‘keeping an eye on things’. However, because we are not online around the clock we are probably an easier target for spammers - particularly in the early hours of the morning.

Having said that, this was our first such attack in the eight years since the site has been running a community forum/notice board feature.

In fact, such has been the strength of this online community that we have never had to ban a member, edits have been minimal (usually typos) and the spirit has been wonderful, open, engaging and honest.

So, what do we do now? I have introduced two new security measures.

1) New members have to be checked after they register before they can post. This is perhaps more a delaying strategy rather than an absolute safety guarantee - but it could delay the opportunist who logs on late at night with dubious motives.

2) I have turned off the instant message option for forum members who have made fewer than 50 posts. The majority of the regulars have posted more than that, and so they will still be able to instant message their forum contacts.

The remaining issue is this.

Do we take a risk, having introduced a number of safety measures (including those mentioned above and some stronger blocks not mentioned here for obvious security reasons), or do we leave it closed.

If we open it again, there is probably a good chance that spammers will find a way round the security measures and the incident could be repeated. If we leave it closed, they have won and we have lost a valuable online community resource.

Perhaps there is a half-way position?

Perhaps we start again, delete the existing forum and invite people to register afresh on the understanding that with all online communications there is a possibility of it being abused?

The downside is that the archive of local debate including more than 10,000 posts on 870 topics will be lost.

I have bumped into several forum members over the past 24-hours and all said we must not give in and that the forum should continue, but they are just a few of the 670 registered members.

Any thoughts would be welcomed. Anyone can add their comments.



At Sunday, September 10, 2006 11:04:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would very much like to see the forum continue.

I, like many, find it useful to see what is happening locally and to read others' views.

I think that anyone who wants to join has to be vetted must be a good starting point. If that doesn't work, then would be the time to think again.


At Sunday, September 10, 2006 1:04:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it would be tremenous shame if the forum were to stop. I think pre-registration of comments would be a good idea but we must not let the spammers win - any more than must allow terrorists to stop us flying or road accidents stop us driving. Dave and his team do a terrific job and it is a valuable community resource. Keep up the good work


At Sunday, September 10, 2006 1:19:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to see the forum continue too. I have had a few posts there, but more often I read the comments from everyone else. I find the forum very helpful and would not like to see the spammers win. Thank you for all your hard work.

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 1:34:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I'm sure that almost all fourm member will understand that, however good your security, there will always be someone with malicious intent who will find a way through. Security is not a perfect science, and as a comparison, some houses with sophisticared alarms still get burgled occasionly, and some cars with engine imobilisers still get stolen.

I'm sure that most forums members will feel, as I do, that the forum must continue, and that these cyber-criminals must not be allowed to marginalise the good guys.

For myself I accept that part of being a member of the internet community is that just once in a while, like in the real world, some things like this incident, that I don't like, may occasionally happen.

You and your team do a pheomonal job for the local comunity, for far flung former residents and for those like myself who hope to create the funds to be able to move to the village one day. Keep with it and don't let the ba%*"^ds grind you down. You guys rock!


At Sunday, September 10, 2006 2:05:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you David for all you have done for this website in setting it up and keeping it running. Thanks too to the other moderators. I went to the website on Saturday to write a "thank you" and to express my thanks for all you've done up to this point, only to see the whole spamming incident!

The Forum should live on. Thank you again for all you have done so far David. With gratitude

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 2:23:00 pm, Blogger BobM said...

Hi David, I think Cassie and I were the first to spot the spam. The forum must be kept open and if it helps I am normally on line late at night as I help to moderate and do admin on the MX5 owners club forum. I'm quite happy to help you moderate this forum if required. I live in Cuffley but both my children went to Chancellors to explain my interest in the BP forum.

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 2:30:00 pm, Blogger David Brewer said...

Thanks Bob,

I will mail you about the moderation offer.



At Sunday, September 10, 2006 3:25:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As another user, i also would like to see issues etc around locally.

It is interesting to note improvements and solutions here and to see other people's views etc.

Frankly many other forums i have been to have had spamming problems but they have not shut. This one shouldn't either, or should reopen but not anew. As in, keep the old\current forum

People have been helpful


At Sunday, September 10, 2006 4:14:00 pm, Anonymous Steve Gowser said...

I think you are beating yourself up too much about this. Spammers are a fact of life and IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT!

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 4:24:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit I was a little surprised when I opend the email. But realised immediatly it must be spam and not what you would allow. No big deal that's what our delete button is for, and it nothing I hadn't seen before so I don't think I will be scarred for life LOL. Keep up your good work, although I am many miles away and probably will never be your way again I do enjoy reading what is going on in Brookmans park and surrounding area.

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 4:47:00 pm, Anonymous Mermaid said...

The Forum should continue - no question about that - it is a valuable local resource and we should not let a sleazy spammer affect what is OURS. It is right to move to protect it, and the delay in posting will certainly help to weed out the spammers, but close the Forum down and the spammers will have won - don't close it!

Unfortunately, in the modern world, to have an e-mail address is to attract spam, and the majority of us have seen things like this before (even with Spamfighters).

So thanks Dave, for all you've done to give us this wonderful facility, we cherish it, keep going!


At Sunday, September 10, 2006 5:14:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The forum must continue - it is something that has become part of life in Brookmans Park. Obviously it's a tad embarrasing that some spam has been unwittingly been propogated by the forum, however who can honestly say they've never received emails like this before ? Let's keep it in perspective, apply what security measures that are practical, and get the forum back online !

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 5:33:00 pm, Blogger David Brewer said...

We have introduced a number of new security measures and the forum is now live again.

Thanks to everyone for their comments.


At Sunday, September 10, 2006 9:53:00 pm, Blogger Ferdie said...

Invaluable asset to the community and one that I would be very sad to lose. Spammers are just a bunch of sad individuals who have nothing better to do that waste our time and vent their peverted minds and in some cases criminal activities on decent people. Sadly I get SPAM all the time and I just hit delete and not even give them the satsfaction of reading their twaddle. Occasionally I may delete a genuine email, but then senders should make sure they clearly identify themselves. Thanks David and all the crew who keep the pages going, we must not be deterred.

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 11:15:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too would like to see the forum keep going as it is my only link to my home village of Brookmans Park (I now live in Australia)

Keep up the good work all.

Dale Gomes

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 11:20:00 pm, Blogger Matt said...

These forums must continue!! At the end of the day they are only links and the email can be deleted without having to view the material. Are we not british and stronger than this?? We can carry on as norm after the train bombing so who's to let some silly spammers ruin our great forum???

At Monday, September 11, 2006 9:03:00 am, Anonymous Margaret said...

I think the forum should continue we can not let 1 bad act ruin it for the rest of us. Personaly I deleted the message without reading it as I did not know anybody called Colin Farrell and was therefore suspicious of it. If it had been urgent or important the person concerned could have posted their details on the site and asked me to contact them.

At Tuesday, September 12, 2006 10:20:00 am, Anonymous ADM said...

I've found the evil perpetrator -

The third comment down is very revealing.

But seriously, it's only spam. If you play on the internet, you're gonna get spammed. I'm through the worst of it now.



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