Botnet Consisting Out Of 350,000 Twitter Accounts Discovered By Researchers At The University College London

Bot accounts can wreak havoc on social networks. They could be used (and are used) for many different purposes. For instance, an authoritarian ruler decides to push for a law that could endanger right to privacy. The people are (rightfully) against the bill, but with a strong botnet, the situation can be showed as being completely opposite. Also, bot accounts are useful to large companies, who can use them for sending automated ad posts to large number of users.

And there is the lucrative business of selling followers, which is on the rise since more and more people want to picture themselves as cool and popular. “Botmasters,” persons who created them and use them, can earn tons of money by selling their services to third parties. These fake accounts, so-called eggheads, can be a real threat, and a group of researchers recently found a huge number of eggheads, consisting out of 350,000 Twitter bot accounts.

Two researchers from University College London, Juan Echeverria and Shi Zhou, discovered the huge bot army while conducting a research on automated accounts. They’ve taken a random sample consisting out of one percent of Twitter users and then filtered the accounts to find just English-speaking ones. Once the filtering concluded, researchers found something strange.

The geo-tagged tweet distribution showed that, despite most of the accounts coming from large urban areas in Europe and North America, a fair number of accounts came from the bottom of the sea, desert, or unpopulated areas. As they dug deeper, Echeverria and Zhou discovered that a huge percent of outlier accounts posted tweets with Star Wars quotes (more accurately, Tweets containing quotes from Star Wars novels) between June and July of 2013.

A Map Of Botnet Accounts

Other incriminating evidence included a low number of new friends and followers. But the most interesting fact is that all accounts came from Windows Phone. All mentioned features are clear trademarks of bot accounts. Researchers wanted to find out more about the army of bots, so they constructed an algorithm able to find more “Star Wars bot accounts.”

The researchers searched for some Star Wars keywords such as Jedi, The Force, Lightsabre, and others, as well as looking only at accounts that had less than 10 followers and 31 friends. Of course, the two researchers targeted only accounts tweeting from Windows Phones.

The search found out that a large number of these bot accounts are tied to the same individual. The findings don’t explain why the botmaster made so many accounts and why they stayed dormant for so long, but it suggests that bot army this large can really break havoc on Twitter, and could also be a nice investment since there are many potential clients out there.

This isn’t the end, since the two researchers found an even larger army of Twitter bots, comprised out of more than half a million accounts. Since there are more than 300 million Twitter accounts, there are more botnets to be found. They can make lots of problems if used by people with wrong intentions, but for now botnets can’t do much harm, unless seeing a random unpopular individual getting a ton of followers all of a sudden is a huge deal.

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