the mysterious Ashley

Case number:699969-2007830
Topic:General
Opened by:LociOiling
Status:Open
Type:Question
Opened on:Friday, June 14, 2019 - 18:32
Last modified:Thursday, April 23, 2020 - 19:14

The user Ashley was sighted on 13 June 2019 in both #global and #veteran. (All times are US Central Daylight Time, CDT).

Purely by accident, clicking on Ashley's name revealed a "started folding" date of 05/09/08, 9 May 2008, the game's official birthdate.

Ashley's user profile

Despite having started folding 11 years ago, Ashley has never opened a single puzzle or contest, and has no achievements.

Given this lack of any activity, Ashley's appearance in the somewhat exclusive #veteran chat was even more mysterious.

Ashley's puzzling apparition persisted for almost 34 hours, as seen in my IceChat logs:

13 June 2019 (US CDT):
[00:28]* Ashley (Ashley@net-pol.92h.8l7epv.IP) has joined channel #global
[00:28]* Ashley (Ashley@net-pol.92h.8l7epv.IP) has joined channel #veteran

14 June 2019 (US CDT):
[10:06]* Ashley (Ashley@net-pol.92h.8l7epv.IP) Quit (Ping timeout: 181 seconds)

Thanks to Mike Cassidy for pointing out the paradox of Ashley's entry into #veteran.

Making this one a question: what's going on here?

(Fri, 06/14/2019 - 18:32  |  56 comments)


Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

OK, I guess Ashley has a sibling Alissa, who appears in both veteran and global at the moment.

Alissa has a low user number, 56117. Alissa's profile gives "you are not authorized to access this page".

I vote for Audrey as the next access-denied type of mystery chat invader.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Our latest lurker at the threshold is Bill or bill, started on 9 May 2008, present in #veteran, but has no visible accomplishments.

Hope I didn't miss Audrey.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Bill is gone, but now we have Courtney, one of those "access denied/you are not authorized" types. No doubt just another sign of the coming robot apocalypso.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Now Courtney in turn has departed, but we have the somewhat anomalous Barbara, whose profile is actually accessible. Barbara started folding in 2008, but last played puzzle 337 in 2010. As in previous rounds, an attempt at a seance in veteran chat has been made, but the spirits are silent.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Barbara has vanished without saying goodbye, but now Victor has beamed into the chat rooms. Victor has been playing for over 11 years, but has still not managed to open a single puzzle. Perhaps he's just shy, and only plays in offline mode.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

I decided to try talking to Victor, using the oddly-named IRC "query" command in my external IRC client (IceChat).

Somewhat to my surprise, Victor responded. An actual transcript follows.

[14:55]<LociOilingIRC> hey Victor
[14:55]<Victor> Hey
[14:55]<LociOilingIRC> how are things today?
[14:55]<Victor> Hey
[14:55]<LociOilingIRC> I'm thinking you're a bot of some kind.
[14:55]<Victor> Hey

(Edit: escaped the brackets for the sake of HTML.)

alcor29's picture
User offline. Last seen 1 hour 41 min ago. Offline
Joined: 11/16/2012

Hilarious!

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

It continues. Victor has left the chat room, but Joseph has moved in.

georg137's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 days 15 hours ago. Offline
Joined: 08/07/2010
Groups: Contenders

Foldit is open to all, but the intended thrust of creating a user account is to actually use a client machine for folding. So, any ideas about the implications of serial account creation? Weird but harmless or somehow intrusive?

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

I suspect the Foldit team is behind these dormant users appearing in chat. A year or so ago, we had FolditIRCBot in chat, but not for very long. Perhaps someone is working on a better bot, but FolditIRCBot had way more things to say than my pal Victor.

I'd agree with "weird but harmless". Not very intrusive, since these are public channels, as our friends from SuperNets used to demonstrate once in a while.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

The gyre continues to widen. Joseph has departed into the aether, but Anna has manifested theirself, passing through a mystical portal from a distant time known as 2008.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Anna has left us, along with the old chat server. Now David (or david) has joined us on the new server.

David started Foldit early on, 29 November 2007. Unlike recent chat manifestations, David appears to have played a puzzle, coming in 1159th on Puzzle 59 in May, 2008. (Oddly, David's efforts don't show up on the puzzle page, which ends with LMfan in 1293rd place.)

Does anyone know a "David" who might be associated with Foldit?

Angus's picture
User offline. Last seen 1 day 19 hours ago. Offline
Joined: 06/04/2008
Groups: Beta Folders

David Baker ???

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

David has left the chat lab, but Andrea, another vet from '08, has popped in. Andrea has the "Baby Steps" achievement, who knows what they'll achieve in the next 11 years!

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Andrea has left us to our own devices, but Carlos, another from the class of '08 has joined our sparkling conversations.

Joined: 09/24/2012
Groups: Go Science

Ha ha ha :D This is amazing.

bkoep's picture
User offline. Last seen 58 min 30 sec ago. Offline
Joined: 11/15/2012
Groups: Foldit Staff

Just want to chime in that mysterious Ashley is not a part of the Foldit team, although we are enjoying the intrigue! It's possible that these are early Foldit players returning from hibernation, but most likely this is just a bot that logs into random IRC channels with a generic, unauthenticated nick (which happens to match a Foldit username) . . . or it could also be the Foldit elves that keep messing with the scoreboards.

These accounts appear to be harmless, so we see no reason to be concerned. Please keep in mind that the Foldit #veteran and #global channels are public IRC channels, and are not the place to share private or sensitive information.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Thanks, things just got a little weirder. The nicks don't seem randomly selected -- all have been a common first name, and all have a Foldit profile, although sometimes the profile page is locked.

There is a bot on the other end, which will always say "hey" in an IRC query.

We do see returning Foldit players on a regular basis, for example, there was a brief appearance by NewZealand (who has a different IRC name) a couple of days ago. NZ actually said something in chat, unlike the bots.

brow42's picture
User offline. Last seen 24 weeks 2 days ago. Offline
Joined: 09/19/2011
Groups: None

Anybody can come onto IRC with any nick they want. But this won't link to a foldit account. The problem is that they are creating accounts, and they don't seem to be foldit players, having never opened a single puzzle.

What you have is people connecting to your Foldit game server, which is apparently unencrypted, and doesn't authenticate against the PKI cert in the client (or they copied it), and they creating new accounts. What then? Probably they are throwing random garbage at the server to see if it breaks in an exploitable way, or they trying to find a way to have your server act as a proxy for spam or ddos packets. Whatever it is, it's almost certainly not benign.

bkoep's picture
User offline. Last seen 58 min 30 sec ago. Offline
Joined: 11/15/2012
Groups: Foldit Staff

Hi brow42, how are you seeing the nick linked to a Foldit account?

Within the Foldit client, you can click on someone's IRC nick to visit their Foldit user page, but under the hood this is actually a query against the Foldit database for a username matching the IRC nick.

In this case, an arbitrary IRC nick will in fact link to a Foldit account if there is a matching username in the database. No need to register a Foldit account.

I think it's very unlikely our IRC guests are creating actual Foldit accounts (especially since most of these nicks "link" to accounts created back in 2008-09).

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

OK, I tested it out....

I just came into chat as Clay through mibbit. The nick "Clay" automatically links to the Foldit profile "clay", no need to authenticate. (Although Clay is not seeing messages in #global and #veteran, but that may be a mibbit issue.)

Meanwhile, Danny is still with us, but at the same time, SoFoolyCoolly also seems to fit the pattern. Although the name is not as simple as "David", the profile is similar to the others, started folding 5/9/08, but no accomplishments listed. (Edit: SoFoolyCoolly doesn't respond to IRC query messages, so it's not the same bot as the others.)

You're not going to find "SoFoolyCoolly" on a list of common names, but it's easy enough to pick a profile by flipping through user numbers at fold.it/portal/user. I started at user 5001, and quickly found "clay" at 5004.

So we kind of know how this is happening, but still no clue as to *why*.

bkoep's picture
User offline. Last seen 58 min 30 sec ago. Offline
Joined: 11/15/2012
Groups: Foldit Staff

SoFoolyCoolly was me, sorry!

I randomly picked that username for a similar test, and forgot to leave the chatroom afterward. I cannot claim Danny, though...

Joined: 09/24/2012
Groups: Go Science

Ha ha ha ! Amazing story.

brow42's picture
User offline. Last seen 24 weeks 2 days ago. Offline
Joined: 09/19/2011
Groups: None

I guess this is the best explanation, if you have a bunch of old test accounts.

None of this makes sense, unless you've somehow restarted a 10 year old IRC testing program in a software move or restore. We can't see the ip of these connections but presumably jflat can.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Carlos has faded, looks like Danny has appeared.

Joined: 09/20/2011
Groups: Marvin's bunch

I think LFB is testing the water :)

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Danny is done, no direct replacement, but there is a Bernice in veteran. Unlike the other mystery guests, Bernice doesn't have a Foldit profile at all.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Bernice is no more, but Gary has stepped in to fill the underachiever achievement.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Gary has gone back to Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana, but Maria has dropped into our little corner of the spacetime continuum.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

We were never sure what to do about Maria, but now we have Jenny, who is denying us access.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Jenny has ridden off into the sunset, but James, who happens to have a very low-numbered profile absolutely unsullied by accomplishments, has graced us with his presence.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

James has finished his rotation, but blank Frank has joined us, which only occurs once every 11.5 years, give or take a little.

brow42's picture
User offline. Last seen 24 weeks 2 days ago. Offline
Joined: 09/19/2011
Groups: None

Did you really create over 20 test accounts? With blank passwords? Or are they being created now and whatever method they are using to create the account doesn't set the date right?

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Well, whoever is doing this it's not me...it's an Unknown Subject, with an unknown motive.

I don't think any accounts are being created. There were lots of accounts created early in the game. Maybe some were test accounts, but probably most were actual people. Many of them failed to get the game up and running, so they have a totally blank profile.

All our unsub is doing is scanning the fold.it website for common Anglo given names, for example "Frank" or "Ashley". You can do this manually if you have lots of spare time, otherwise automated "screen scraping" is not too difficult.

The unsub then connects their bot to chat using one of these common names. There's no authentication required for #veteran and #global. Given the IRC nick "Frank", the Foldit client automatically links to the user profile for either "Frank" or "frank" on fold.it, again without asking for a password or credit card number.

This little exploit gives the appearance that long-dormant users have suddenly taken a new interest in the game. The *why* of it all is what gets me. No clue there.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

It turns out there were a few of these guests that I missed.

While Frank is our current rezident, the manifestations actually started in January 2019, when Sarah and then Sherry joined us, apparently going unnoticed. Sherry parted company in early March, and then there was nothing until Ashley joined on 13 June.

For a while they were working in pairs, so we had Marlene join on 15 June, followed shortly by Anne on 16 June. Anne and June left on 25 June, but then Hester and Rudolph joined, and lingered until 4 July. William and Alissa took over, and lasted until 10 July.

From the clues I've assembled so far, all these astral projections come from just two IP addresses, IPs which aren't used by any Foldit players, or at least not for chat purposes. Of course, our chat IPs are now obscured, so they aren't useful in further tracking.

My current list is below. It includes everyone from the two IPs who either joined a channel or quit. Chat has been a little spotty for me recently, so there are few cases like Gary and Maria, where I logged the join commands, but not the quits. Conversely, I see there was a quit from Eugenie, but no joins.

As always, "further research is needed". I'll take a peek at the quiet period of March through May next.

Alissa
Andrea
Anna
Anne
Ashley
Barbara
Bernice
Bill
Carlos
Courtney
Danny
David
Eugenie
Frank
Gary
Hester
Jame
James
Jenny
Joseph
Katherine
Maria
Marlene
Norman
Rudolph
Sarah
Sherry
Vernon
Victor
William
Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

More fun facts....

The average lurker has persisted ~9.5 days. The first lurker spotted, Ashley, was only around for a day and a half, where Sherry had previously lurked for ~23.5 days unnoticed.

William was on for ~5.8 days in one incarnation, then returned for only ~0.88 days, the shortest known lurk. William is our only repeat offender.

Add Bernice and Vernon to the list of co-lurkers. They joined chat within a minute of each other, but a chat glitch means I don't have a record of when they quit.

James is the lurking champ, at ~24.8 days.

All this is assuming my spreadsheet date arithmetic is good. I don't have complete start/stop info for Anna, David, Carlos, Danny, Bernice, Vernon, Gary, Maria, Eugenie, and Jenny, so my statistics may be a little off.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Frank departed on Christmas Day (US time), but Shanta soon joined from beyond. Unlike the other contestants, Shanta doesn't have a matching Foldit profile. So we're in uncharted territory just short of a year after whatever this is started.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

They're multiplying!

Shanta has evaporated, but now we have Alice, an "access denied" type, Jose who signed up 12 May 2008, and Lydia, another locked profile.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Three by three.

Alice, Jose, and Lydia have left without saying goodbye.

But good news, our old pal David from the class of 2007 has returned for a re-lurk. He is joined by Jessica, a stuck-up "access denied" type, and Kimberly, who joined back in the crazy days of 2008.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

David/Jessica/Kimberly didn't quite last a day, now Vanessa, "access denied".

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Vanessa vanished, hello Harold.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Harold has hied himself hence, but Maxine has joined us.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

I have also detected that Lydia (access denied) joined us for just half an hour after Vanessa, then was soon replaced by Harold.

After Harold, Michael was with us for a little over a day, followed by our current watcher, Maxine.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Maxine has maxed out, but William wanders with us again, this time without the companionship of Alissa.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

William has evaporated, leaving without even a quit message in the chat log. So far, no one seems to have stepped in to fill their virtual shoes.

Separately, but also oddly, there was a reply to the previous post in this feedback 26 January at 23:34 UTC. It generated a notification email. The reply was gone when I looked here, however. Still, in the list of feedbacks, the last updated entry says "01/26 23:34, Anonymous".

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Gerardo has finally stepped in to cover the Groundhog Gap.

Joined: 06/24/2008
Groups: Void Crushers

Yep Gerardo is here! I think I will kick him

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Gerardo was dealt with ruthlessly, but now Irene reigns supreme.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Someone was mean to Irene, now she's a has-been.

Days have passed, but no new pretender has dropped in.

Joined: 12/27/2012
Groups: Beta Folders

Michael is back for another visit.

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