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Share-buttons.xyz Google Analytics Referral Spam

On Saturday, January 2, 2016, share-buttons.xyz appeared in my unfiltered Google Analytics (GA) referral list for the first time. Since this did not show up in Piwik this is almost certainly spoofed Google Analytics referral spam. In this type of attack, no one visited your site; the spammer spoofed your Google Analytics ID when calling the GA servers. Either for commercial or malicious purposes, the spammer wants you to go to the web site to investigate the fake referral. TCPIPUtils shows that the domain is registered to a domain privacy service and is hosted at 104.254.244.128. TCPIPUtils shows that this server also hosts traffic2cash.xyz, get-your-social-buttons.info, cash4traffic.info and other domains that appear to be Google Analytics referral spammers. The share-buttons.xyz domain was registered on January 1, 2016 as a private registration with 1&1.

Trends in Share-buttons.xyz Referral Spam

It is impossible to know how many sites have been attacked by this referral spammer, but it is possible to use Google Trends to find out how many webmasters have searched Google for this domain name. Figure 1 shows Google activity for “share-buttons.xyz” during the most recent 12 months, while Figures 2, 3 and 4 show activity, related queries and regional trends for the 7 days beginning January 20, 2016.

Figure 1. Google Trends graph of queries for “share-buttons.xyz” and “referral spam”.
Figure 2. Google Trends graph “share-buttons.xyz” and “referral spam” over from 2016-01-20 for 7 days.
Figure 3. Google queries related to “share-buttons.xyz” for week beginning January 20, 2016.
Figure 4. Regional Google queries related to “share-buttons.xyz”.

Fixing the Problem

My first reaction in addressing referral spam was to add a line to .htaccess to block these spam referrals (see http://www.htaccess-guide.com/deny-visitors-by-referrer/ for a description of how to do this) but with more research, it turns out these referrals weren’t referrals to my site at all, but were insertions of fake referrals into my Google Analytics reports. As was the case with darodar.com, the clear intent is to cause webmasters to go to an unfamiliar site when they see a reference in their Google Analytics reports. Whether the motivation is to generate traffic to their site or to cause webmasters to visit a site that will download malware is unknown.

Based upon the instructions in Removing Referral Spam from Google Analytics, I checked the hostname on the referrals, and all showed “(not set)”–a clear sign that no one ever touched my site and that these were inserted into Google Analytics to get me to click social-buttons.com to generate traffic or download malware onto my computer.

Removing Referral Spam from Google Analytics provides a good description of the problem and some solutions. Understanding and eliminating referrer spam in Google Analytics gives another good description of referral spam and a programmatic solution that is appropriate for plug-in developers but not for administrators of WordPress, Joomla and other content management system (CMS) based sites.

An alternative is to switch to self-hosted Piwik for your web analytics; if you do this, it will be immediately clear that the vast majority of Google Analytics referral spam is of the spoofed variety rather than the crawler variety. Piwik does not have the advertising integration nor does it have the demographic information, but for many small-traffic sites it can provide much more information. See Using Piwik as an Alternative to Google Analytics on this web site for more information on why Piwik might work for you and how to implement it.

Useful Commands and Web Sites for Investigating Referrers

For investigating a referrer, here are some useful commands and web sites:

  • TCPIPutils is a great site for looking up data on an domain or IP address
  • For domain registrations, the command line whois social-buttons.com is very convenient as is https://www.whois.net/
  • For IP lookups, dig social-buttons.com is convenient, as is http://ip-lookup.net/index.php
  • Better Business Bureau
  • To view a site in character mode so that malware doesn’t get downloaded, use curl and curl -L. These are commonly installed on Linux machines, but will require additional software on Windows and OS X, as discussed below.
  • To look up a lot of information on an IP address in one place http://www.tcpiputils.com/browse/ip-address will give you a lot of information quickly.

Command Line Utilities

To use the whois, dig and curl commands on Windows and OS X, you will need to install additional software:

  • On Windows, install Cygwin and add the curl package.
  • On OS X, install MacPorts and add the curl package.

Cygwin and MacPorts have many additional command line and graphical utilities that make life easier in Windows and OS X.

More Information

For more information on referral spam, see

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