Andi Best Freelance Designer

What's With All The Porn?


  • Published 21-01-2017
  • Share
What's With All The Porn?
All illustration in this post was taken from my work for Sate magazine
If you want something done right - and without porn - you've got to do it yourself
It always stings a little when a client gets in touch to tell me they've discovered something amiss with a website I've built them. But it's utterly hair-raising when a client gets in touch to ask 'what's with all the porn?' I'm not sure I've ever made such a hasty journey to my office still in my pyjamas.
Pornography and my line of work have only ever crossed paths once before and that was in a fleeting display of irregularity and shamelessness that will live with me forever. More on that below.
On this occasion the client was doing what we all routinely do on the Internet when no one is looking - Googling himself (not a metaphor). Using the Google Image Search facility this client had submitted a query of his company. The top hit was, expectedly, his company logo as it appeared on the website I'd built him. Alongside the logo was a button inscribed "View Original Image" which, seeking the best quality rendition of the logo, he dutifully clicked. What was shown to him however was in fact not the 'original image' of his logo, but rather a 800 x 600px racy banner advert conveying where, if he were so inclined, he could locate a "hot shag". Suitably bemused he called me up to investigate.
Hotlinking and Hot shags
What's With All The Porn?
Hotlinking is one of those minor annoyances inherent with the Internet's construction. Rather than saving a copy of an image from a webpage and hosting it on one's own a minority of tactless and lazy individuals choose to serve images directly from already hosted sources. This is known as hotlinking.
Copyright issues aside, this is a form of theft and the hosting site is made victim through undue bandwidth consumption. Because it's so easily done it's rarely policed and many offenders are ignorant to any wrongdoing. Here's a great example of hotlinking causing grief to The Oatmeal.
To combat hotlinking I add a few lines of code in the websites I build for my clients in a root level .htaccess file. The code is simple enough and is widely used; it looks to intercept the transmission of images if the requesting domain is not that of the image's origin.
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(.+\.)?mysite\.com/ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteRule .*\.(jpe?g|gif|bmp|png)$ http://i.imgur.com/qX4w7.gif [L]
To resolve the image request the code endeavours to serve a different image instead. Normally I use a stock graphic bearing the text "image not found" that lives on an unrelated imgur.com server. And therein lies the problem.
Ain't no party like a third party
What's With All The Porn?
Third party assets and applications all share the understandable yet very inconvenient trait of being largely out of control of parties one and two. Myself and my client were utterly helpless therefore when someone decided to 'update' the fallback image at the imgur URL from a harmless administrative notification to an unwarranted marketing communiqué for amorous shenanigans. Chances are the swap was carried out with devious intent - perhaps even via a hack - with an impact radius of every site worldwide using the very same hotlinking countermeasure graphic.
Initially I wondered why someone would target the relatively niche audience of hotlink offenders. Even though the number of websites relying on that graphic is potentially huge, the advert's exposure would only be witnessed by those using sites guilty of hotlinking - much much fewer. Unless of course an extremely popular, high traffic website like Google was at fault.
So what's Google playing at?
What's With All The Porn?
Though it was thanks to Google that this sordid and unsolicited mutation was unearthed, it was also Google's own web service that arguably posed the greatest risk of wielding it. If a potential customer had followed the same, decidedly innocent route that my client had they too would have been presented with the reputation-damaging promotional smut and taken their business somewhere less intercourse related. I have absolutely no idea why Google, the world's largest source of harvested digital material, is able to serve image previews from its own established cache but chooses to serve "original" images direct from source. I have even less idea why it would attempt to do so within a page wrapper, thereby (rightly) triggering the anti-hotlinking measure. I'd wager it was reliance on this oversight that convinced the charlatans behind the image exchange that their handiwork would be so potent.
It's not clear how long this perverted thread had become loose in my client's site but fortunately tying it off was simple. I simply opened my own imgur account, created my own hotlinking diversion graphic and relinked all my affected client sites to it. Now that it's totally under my control this isn't a problem I'm likely to run into again.
*****
Earlier I mentioned that this episode was not my first brush with pornography in the workplace. If you're interested, read on for a tenuously linked anecdote about a man I'll call Hasan.
Hasan wasn't quite a client of mine. He stopped by my office once and made some enquiries about print work, but never actually commissioned me to do anything for him. One evening I was working late in the office on a paint-based project and was particularly startled when I glanced up to find Hasan silhouetted against a street light outside, tapping on my window. I went round to the front of the building and cautiously let him in.
"What can I do for you?" I asked.
"I'm having a problem with my computer" he replied.
Like many, Hasan saw on his earlier visit that I use a computer as part of my day to day endeavours and decided that I must therefore also be an I.T. technician. He produced his laptop from under his arm and placed it on my desk, nudging the power button. We stood for a moment observing the loading ritual and Hasan began mumbling what I think was his plight (his thick accent made it difficult for me to be sure). Eventually he thrust an accusing finger at what had brought him here, a blue screen of death, and all became clear. From the error message displayed it seemed that his operating system had been removed, evidently against his will, and I confirmed as much to him. At hearing this news Hasan looked annoyed. He did not look sheepish or embarrassed. He did not even feign nonchalance or regret. He just looked plain annoyed and said quite defensively "All I was doing was looking at porn".
This rendered me utterly lost for words. Here I stood in my place of work in the company of a man who was unaware of precisely what it is I do for a living, who had desperately driven from two towns over to see me at 8pm in the evening (assuming I'd still be in my office two and half hours after normal business hours) and was perfectly comfortable in expressing, without an ounce of compunction, that his controversial web browsing habits had led to the destruction of his computer. Hasan left that night with his computer still, literally, blue.
Want to read blog updates as they're published? Sign up to my newsletter for blog update alerts. Join my newsletter