Bandwidth bandits

Bush on USS Lincoln with mission accomplished banner A picture frequently linked from my website by bandwidth bandits

Battling in self-defense

There's a crime wave of sorts on the internet, and it has nothing to do with unscrupulous scams to steal credit card numbers or sell drugs to enhance sexual prowess and stamina. No, this is grand theft bandwidth.

Here's how it works: You find a picture somewhere on the web that you want to use on your own website or have show up in a blog or forum. By using the View|Source function of the browser, you can figure out the URL for the picture itself. For example, the complete URL for the picture at right is:

http://williamsonpsp.com/chronicles/2004/04/21_bandits/bush-on-lincoln-2may03_sm.jpg

To make this image show up on your own web page, you would write this HTML code:

<img src="http://williamsonpsp.com/chronicles/2004/04/21_bandits/bush-on-lincoln-2may03_sm.jpg">

Now when people look at your webpage or read what you wrote in the forum, they see the picture, but it will be sent to them by the webserver at williamsonpsp.com. And the fine people who host williamsonpsp.com will count all those bytes against my bandwidth limit. In effect, my bandwidth will be stolen and I will get no benefit from it whatsoever.

So what's the problem? Until recently this dastardly practice was dastardly, but it wasn't really a problem for me. It didn't happen often enough to have much impact. However, stolen bandwidth now accounts for over one-third of the traffic on my site, and I am in danger of exceeding my monthly 1 gigabyte bandwidth limit! I get ominous messages from my webhost several times a day: The domain williamsonpsp.com has reached 80% of its bandwidth limit. Please contact the system admin as soon as possible. Presumably they will shut the site down for the remainder of the month if the limit is reached.

Countermeasures. My friend Jim delights in foiling bandwidth thieves by replacing the targeted picture with a new one less appropriate and relevant.

ad for williamsonpsp.comI'm actually pleased that people are looking at my site, and I'm flattered that they think highly enough of a picture to want to use it for themselves. But when people just link the picture it steals my bandwidth, and I get no value. People who see the picture don't even know it's coming from my site, and there is nothing to drive them to look at other things on my site. So, my first step was to make the replacement picture an ad for my site.

This is amusing, but it doesn't really solve the problem: bandwidth is still be used up sending the replacement picture. Besides, the bandit can just go right back and get the new name for the old picture.

Then I discovered that my webhost provides a feature called "hotlink protection." When enabled, the server does not respond to requests for pictures, unless the request comes from one of my own pages. So, when someone creates a direct link to one of my pictures from their own website or forum article, people simply see a missing-image icon.

Bandwidth theft thwarted!

MuppetMaster found my Bush pictures useful for making a political point (Source: http://www.expatforums.org/viewtopic.php?t=5346)
Skunkwerks tried to use one of my images as a personal icon (Source: http://www.pro-networks.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=22835)

If someone types a direct link to a picture into their browser, they are now redirected to a "gotcha" page on my site. Go ahead, give it a try. Copy the following text and paste it into your browser: http://williamsonpsp.com/chronicles/2004/04/15_frankencactus/12mar04_xxxl.jpg