In an attempt to reduce problems with vandalism, the MediaWiki developers activated a feature last week to restrict new user accounts from performing page moves.
The latest discussion of this idea started on 19 February, in response to rising frustration over the vandal generally known as Willy on Wheels. Willy on Wheels has for several months caused problems by moving a large number of pages to nonsense titles, which takes significantly more time to clean up than normal vandalism. It is believed that he sets up a number of page moves using a tabbed browser, then performs them all rapidly before any kind of response is possible.
The first major problem with page moves came last year, when Wik adopted this tactic as part of his vandalbot attack. This briefly resulted in page moves being shut down entirely for non-administrators. This time, discussion focused on setting various technical limitations on page moves that could prevent the vandalism, such as requiring a minimum edit count or limiting the frequency of page moves.
David Gerard reported on 6 March that he had asked developer Tim Starling in an IRC conversation about the existence of a feature to restrict page moves. Starling, recently returned to activity after taking a break from Wikipedia (see archived story), said that the necessary code had been written last year to deal with the vandalbot, but that the feature was now turned off.
Most of those involved in the discussion supported implementing some kind of restriction, at least temporarily. Noel said, "We need to turn this on until we get something better." A simpler method to undo page moves will hopefully be incorporated in the upcoming release of MediaWiki 1.5.
Last Monday, 7 March, developer Brion Vibber indicated that the feature had been turned on, thus preventing the newest one percent of user accounts from performing page moves. According to Vibber, the feature has already been active on the German Wikipedia for a while. As written, the code restricts moves based on the time of account creation, not the number of edits made by the account.
Unfortunately, the restriction of page moves by new accounts failed to deter this kind of vandalism for the moment. Willy on Wheels apparently had several existing accounts in reserve, and used these to unleash a new attack of page move vandalism on Friday. However, if his supply of old accounts is exhausted, the developers may be able to get improved tools for dealing with page moves ready by the time any newly created accounts are able to attack.