Silencing unknown callers

Screenshot of the iOS option to silence unknown callers
My recent calls list, showing lots of missed calls from numbers not in my contacts

Over recent weeks, I’ve been plagued by calls from numbers not in my contacts. Sometimes, as per the screenshot, I’ll get three calls from three different UK mobile numbers within seconds of each other. So, I’ve enabled Silence unknown callers on my iPhone.

I made a mistake by answering the first call, and it turned out to be some kind of cryptocurrency scam. However, it wasn’t just a random dial; they had my name and email address as well as my phone number. This suggests that they’ve hoovered up my personal data from a previous breach – possibly the Patreon breach of 2015, but there have been many others.

Since then, I’ve been getting three or four calls at a time, usually twice per day. It’s a different number every time, so whilst I may have not been fully convinced it was a scam when I answered the first time, I am convinced now. I’ve tried to hide the numbers in the screenshot because the numbers have almost certainly been faked and probably belong to innocent people. It also suggests to me a deliberate effort to get around call blocking apps like Truecaller, for which I have a premium subscription.

What this means is, if people call me, my phone will only ring if the number is in my contacts, if I’ve called it recently, or it’s a ‘Siri suggestion’. The latter could include numbers in recent text messages and emails, for example.

If you want to enable this yourself, open Settings on your iPhone, go to Phone and then scroll down to ‘Silence Unknown Callers’.

I’ll keep this on until the random calls stop. At the time of writing, they’ve slowed down but haven’t stopped completely. Maybe they’ll get the hint in time.

Comment Spam strikes back

An illustration of a robot turning web pages into canned meat product. Generated using Bing AI Image Generator

So now that I’m blogging again, it’s the return of comment spam on my blog posts.

Comment spam has always been a problem with blogs – ever since blogs first allowed comments, spam has followed. Despite the advert of the rel=”nofollow” link attribute, automated bots still crawl web sites and submit comments with links in the hope that this will boost the rankings in search engines.

In the early days of blogging, blogs often appeared high in Google’s search engine results – by their very nature, they featured lots of links, were updated frequently, and the blogging tools of the time often produced simple HTML which was easily parsed by crawlers. So it was only natural that those wanting to manipulate search engine rankings would try to take advantage of this.

I’ve always used Akismet for spam protection, even before I switched to WordPress, and it does a pretty good job. Even then, I currently have all comments set to be manually approved by me, and last week a few got through Akismet that I had to manually junk.

Humans, or AI?

These five interested me because they were more than just the usual generic platitudes about this being a ‘great post’ and ‘taught me so much about this topic’. They were all questions about the topic of the blog post in question, with unique names. However, as they all came through together, and had the same link in them, it was clear that they were spam – advertising a university in Indonesia, as it happens.

Had it not been for the prominent spam link and the fact they all came in together, I may have not picked up on them being spam. Either they were actually written by a human, or someone is harnessing an AI to write comment spam posts now. If it’s the latter, then I wonder how much that’s costing. As many will know already, AI requires a huge amount of processing power and whilst some services are offering free and low cost tools, I can’t see this lasting much longer as the costs add up. But it could also just be someone being paid using services like Amazon Mechanical Turk, even though such tasks are almost certainly against their terms of service.

I think I’m a little frustrated that comment spam is still a problem even after a few years’ break from blogging. But then email spam is a problem that we still haven’t got a fix for, despite tools like SPF, DKIM and DMARC. I’m guessing people still do it because, in some small way, it does work?