SOCIAL MEDIA: 15,000 Scammer Twitter Botnet Exposed


What's a botnet's favorite activity, when not trying to take down Minecraft servers using thousands of remotely controlled baby monitors? Some good crypto currency scamming on Twitter, of course! We loved a recent paper from Duo Labs that exposed the structure of the botnet running the "ETH Giveaway" scam which tricks people into sending a small amount of currency to an address for "verification" and never sends any money back (not unlike the famous Nigerian price).

The researchers sat on the Twitter API and pulled out data on 88 million public profiles and 576 million tweets. To classify accounts, they used 22 heuristics like posting frequency, content, unique sources, hashtags, account age and others. They trained a machine learning Random Forest model on the data set, using "verified" accounts as controls, and found a 15,000-entity botnet with a three-tiered hierarchical structure. Within this structure, there were (1) individual bots that would post spreading the scam messages, (2) hub accounts that many of the bots followed, and (3) amplification accounts which would like and otherwise engage with these messages. It's a beauty of growth hacking and attention economy manipulation.

Such creatures are inevitable in a digital-first world, no matter how much Twitter tries to fight "dehumanization". Over time, they will only get more sophisticated and invisible, as initiatives like Microsoft's TextWorld teach bots to carry a conversation with humans. Which is why we also have to use machine learning ruthlessly to weed these things out. Such is the responsibility of the attention platforms, like Google, Facebook and Twitter. At the same time, we must not cross the fine line between machine moderation and machine control (looking at you, China). Whoever gets to decide how closely to turn the dials on the algorithm controls the volume of millions of voices across the web.


Source: Futurism (Twitter Bots), Duo Labs (Paper), Slate (Dehumanization on Twitter), Microsoft TextWorld