On Wednesday, a blog published information about a security feature that the American Chemical Society uses to protect the stability of its website and prevent unlicensed wide-scale downloading of its content. Curious readers who then clicked on the link provided in the post ended up disabling their institutions’ access to ACS publications, which include more than 40 journals as well as C&EN. The society has already restored access for the sites of approximately 200 affected customers.
Known as a “spider trap,” the security feature is designed to be triggered not by individual users but by automated website crawling and data extraction.
The spider trap information was posted by University of Cambridge chemist Peter Murray-Rust after he was told about it by an unnamed source, whom he dubbed Pandora. Murray-Rust reported that Pandora found the link associated with an online ACS journal article and clicked on it thinking it would lead her to another journal paper. She then received an automated message saying her institution’s access to ACS publications had been blocked.
Those who have clicked on the link and have unresolved issues can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with their institution name, and ACS will work to reinstate access as quickly as possible.