Image Hotlink in Spam E-mail
Some “kind person” decided to generate lots of traffic to one of my websites yesterday, and used an image hosted on the website server in a spam e-mail, resulting in over 500 hits on the image file in four hours. After redirecting and blocking hotlinks to images there were another 600 hits on the hotlink redirect notification page Broken Image Links for a total of more than 1100 hits in twenty-four hours, and then changed to display a copy of the image on the right.
Hits from the spam mail reached a peak between 1:45 pm and 2:15 pm this afternoon (March 27) with more than 1400 hits before stabilisng at around 100 /hour. The peak probably co-incided with workers checking their mail after lunch.
Hotlinking without permission from the site owner, and without credit given to the site is data bandwidth theft. Low traffic non-commercial sites and personal blogs are welcome to hotlink to images PROVIDED THEY APPLY for permission. Commercial sites may subscribe to one of the image hosting packages I offer if they need to distribute hosting for performance reasons.
Great Traffic or Waste of Resources?
To me this is just a waste of resources. Each hit uses bandwidth and server capacity, with no benefit to any site content. Some people may like this sort of traffic to image files – which may be OK if they want images and photos strongly indexed by search engines. The site hosting the image isn’t one of these however.
The broken image links notification page went from zero hits to third highest hits on page for this month (March 2012) in twenty hours after redirecting hotlinks.
Site owners can redirect hotlinks to a page or image file using htaccess rules. This instructs the server to redirect all image requests from external domains to a specific target. Using htaccess site owners can create a list of exception rules, allowing permitted sites to link to images, downloads etc. This is in currently in use on my site graphicline.co.za where a list of permitted domains are allowed to directly link (hotlink) to images.
Some webmasters take more extreme measures – creating offensive (e.g. pornographic) warning images to replace the hotlinked image. No doubt using that tactic will motivate the webmaster stealing bandwidth to get rid of the hotlink as fast as possible.
Old Hotlink Policy
Generally I have followed a lenient policy to hotlinkers – occasionally activating htaccess hotlink protection for a few weeks at a time, allowing webmasters time to notice the missing image, and replace it or ask permission to hotlink to the files, before removing the rule. Sites allowed to hotlink must however meet quality standards regarding the nature of the website and content, the same rules that apply to commenting on articles on the site.
Some types of websites will get immediate approval on application after a quick check – non-commercial angling sites, environmental, social causes, wordpress.com blogs (not the sploggers) and so-on – but I still need to know the website domain to add the the permitted list.
New Policy – Backlink then Hotlink
I am now going to implement a new policy – if you want to hotlink and use my bandwidth – then place a FOLLOWED BACKLINK on every page you display my images. If using common images site-wide – e.g. social share icons – then a followed backlink from the front page of the website is required in a prominent position and a small banner image placed sitewide on other pages (hosted on my server – I will provide the code).
No more Mr Nice Guy… If the webmaster doesn’t like these terms – host the images yourself, or sign-up for one of my image hosting packages.