Web Developer Class: Fighting Spam on Your vBulletin Discussion Forum

By Scott Clark

With so many websites providing discussion forums, new users join in the discussion every day. Problem is, for busy sites, there are often more spammers joining than actual users. This tutorial for web developers will show you how to effectively reduce the number of spammers that get through, before they've even completed the registration process.

vBulletin Anti-Spam Plugins To The Rescue

I run many discussion forums as part of my job, and I am a member of many forums where I discuss subjects that I'm interested in, such as reptiles and disaster recovery. Like most forum users, spam is always an issue that concerns me. It's irritating, can be bad for business, and can include items that are not welcome on a non-adult site, such as porn and ads for Viagra. So how can the spam be stopped before it even starts? Don't let the spammers register! Most spammers are using bots to register on discussion forums, and as such, they are easy to spot, and thus, control. We'll discuss a couple of plugins for vBulletin that are free, easy to install, and can be an effective measure in the war on spam. We'll also cover some anti-spam featuers that are built into vBulletin that you may not be aware of.

Stop the Registration Bots

The Stop the Registration Bots mod checks the the time it takes for the registration form to be submitted. If the form is submitted faster then a human could possibly do it, the registration will be denied and an email will be sent to the forum administrator. The time settings can be changed, however unless you really have some reason for doing so, it's probably not something you'll need to change.

Installing the plugin is relatively easy. You will need to search for a few specific templates within your forum, and you will need to edit some of the code within those templates. The instructions included with the plugin show you which code to add/edit. Once you've done that, you will need to upload a few files to your vBulletin installation directory. Then you'll need to import an XML file into vBulletin, which is a simple two-click process. New options will be added to the vBulletin Options section in the admin control panel, as shown here:

Human Verification Options

Once the spam bot technology overcame the image verification used in CAPTCHA, other methods began to become available. Current versions of vBulletin come with the ability to use several different methods of verifying that a new registrant was indeed a human, and not a bot. Methods include:
  • Image Verification (CAPTCHA) - an image consisting of letters in varying fonts/shapes/sizes will be shown to the user. The appearance of this images is distorted by several options that you may control.
  • Question and Answer Verification - questions provided by you that must be answered correctly for verification
  • reCAPTCHA Verification - An image containing two words will be shown to the user. This verification supports audio, allowing blind users to register

The Question and Answer (Q&A) Verification option is often most useful for large forums, as it allows you to create your own question, based on the topic of the forum. You can ask a question that potential members would be likely to know, but a bot would not.

To use the Q&A verification, you will need to first select that option in the Human Verification Options window as shown above. Then you'll need to set your forum's usergroup permissions to Require Human Verification for Configured Actions is selected.

You will then be able to choose select the Register checkbox so that new registrations will be forced to use the Question and Answer verification during the registration process. Then you click the Add New Question button, and you will be able to add a new question, and then provide an answer for that question.

The NoSpam! plugin was designed to be a replacement for the CAPTCHA system in vBulletin, before the new Human Verification Options became available. For those of you who are still running older versions of vBulletin, it performs the same functions as those in the Human Verification Options discussed above, and enables you to create a question and answer verification process. It only requires you to import one product via Product Manager.

User Banning Options via vBulletin's Admin Control Panel

Another option available to you is to use vBulletin's User Email Options in the Admin CP. Many developers have found that the majority of spammers are using specific email addresses to join the forums. By banning those addresses, you can effectively exclude people using those email domains from registering on your forums while enabling those members who are currently registered with those emails to remain unaffected.

You'll need to go to vBulletin Option, User Banning Options, Banned Email Options

You'll want to use a partial email address (as in @example.com). To separate them, put a space between each email address fragment. Below is a good list of spammer email addresses to start with:

Also on the User Banning Options page is an option to ban new members via IP address. This not only stops users with specified IP addresses from registering, it stops them from accessing any part of your forum. You'll need to place a space or a line break between each IP address. Below is a good list to start with...most are from China, Russia and other countries associated with spamming. Obviously if your site is located in such a country, or focuses on a topic likely to have a lot of foreign registrations, you won't want to use this option.
As you can see, there are some decent options available to enable you to fight the battle against forum spammers. Do your part, help the world be a better place, and tighten up your forum by getting rid of the spam!

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