Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to Deal With a Determined and Nasty Troll With a Tor Server


The Attack of the Pernicious Troll
In the past couple of weeks I came under attack by a particularly nasty leftist troll.  His MO is to post trackbacks to your posts with commentary that is extremely insulting to you personally.  His object is not so much to refute you as it is to express a raging hatred for conservatives and their views.  He is a very angry little man.  I have no desire to engage him or debate him because, frankly, I think he's nuts.  Also, he's not worth the time or trouble.  He wants to debate trivial and peripheral issues that have no impact on the outcome. I'd just as soon debate homeless winos or crack whores.

Banning Trolls from Commenting or Trackbacks
Hey, if you have a pernicious troll bugging you, no problem.  Just ban him from posting messages or trackbacks to your blog.  Problem solved.  But maybe not.  I banned the Nasty Troll and deleted his trackbacks only to discover them right back in a few hours.

Haloscan and other messaging services rely on the commenter's I.P. (Internet Protocol) address for banning purposes.  Whenever you log on to another site or send an email message or make a comment at a blog, your I.P. address is visible to the hosting site.  The host can tell your location from your I.P. address and identify you when you log on.  Haloscan and other messaging services allow you to ban obnoxious users based on their I.P. address.  But what if they are using a fake I.P. address, one that changes every time they log on?

Tor Servers:  the Revenge of the Trolls
It's possible to use a fake I.P. address every time you log onto a site so that you are not identifiable and cannot be banned.  You can do this by operating through a Tor server.  You can download Tor's software free and it enables you to hide your true I.P. address.  As the Tor website explains:
Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor works with many of your existing applications, including web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote login, and other applications based on the TCP protocol.
Now internet anonymity can be a good thing for bloggers and web surfers in China, Iran or other totalitarian regimes.  Tor likes to cite that fact.  People can visit banned sites, communicate with each other and run blogs without the authorities being able to stop it or punish those involved.  Police doing online research into illegal sites can mask their true I.P. address from those under surveillance.

The negatives of masking your I.P. address, however, include being able to harass blogs that you don't like or agree with, to threaten other bloggers or pundits, to cyberstalk with impunity.  And, the target of your invective cannot ban you or escape from your righteous punishment.  That's what Nasty Troll was doing to me, just as he has done to other conservative bloggers.

There are other implications for anonymity:  can a Tor server allow miscreants to run online scams, distribute kiddie porn or illegally download copyrighted music and movies, without anyone (like the police) tracing them?  It would appear so.

How to Fight Trolls Hiding Behind Tor Servers
Trolls with Tor servers use borrowed I.P. addresses from relay sites on a worldwide network.  Hey, no problem, just ban all of the I.P. addresses from Tor relay sites.  I even found a list of them here.   However, there are currently 1,654 of them so you will be busy manually adding them to your ban list for some time.  No, it just isn't practical for individual bloggers. (However, I.T. managers can download scripts to load all of them into a ban list).

The most obvious solution for most bloggers is to turn on comment moderation.  No visitor comments will be posted until you approve them, and it doesn't matter if the commenter is using a Tor server or not.  Unfortunately, this option isn't currently available for blogger's or Haloscan's trackback system.  You will still have to detect and manually remove troll trackbacks, only to have them reappear numerous times.  There is, however, a current solution to this problem:  installing a better messaging system.

What you may want to do is intall JS-Kit's new community messaging system called ECHO.  For $12 a year you can obtain better message and trackback monitoring options that will disempower even Tor Trolls.  You can, for instance, require all trackbacks to your blog to be preapproved by you before they are posted on your site.  That feature alone will terminate any more harassment from my Nasty Troll.

Echo's system also gives you better ways to monitor commenters.   You can "white list" known commenters, allowing all of their comments to be posted without preapproval.   You can use language filters to automatically flag certain comments for moderation.   Trolls can be banned by I.P. address, as before, but also by user name.  With Echo you have more weapons with which to ban trolls, but without burdening your legitimate users with comment moderation.

Another feature I like is that you can turn off commenting on your posts if that becomes necessary.  Occasionally I have a commenter who insists on repeating the same arguments over and over again without adding anything new.  In cases like this I would like to terminate further commenting on this particular post.

Note to Haloscan Users
If you are using Haloscan, you don't need to do anything at this time.  Haloscan has been acquired by JS-Kit and will be migrated into the Echo system over the next few weeks.  That's the position I'm in; I will have to wait maybe a month before I can begin employing these weapons against my Nasty Troll.  For now I will have to enable comment moderation and check my trackbacks daily for unwanted comments or links.

But your days as my persecutor are coming to an end, Nasty Troll, and soon.

What is a Troll?  What do they want?  See this American Thinker article for a definition of Trolls, their tactics and goals.

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