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Twitter infiltrated by sex bots

Twitter infiltrated by sex bots
July 20
11:09 2017

Twitter has been infiltrated by close to 90,000 sex bots over the past few months, marking the largest malicious campaign ever to happen on social media.

ZeroFOX Threat Research, the security firm focused on social media, has been investigating a spam pornography botnet​ on Twitter dubbed SIREN since February and found that 8.5 million tweets from nearly 90,000 accounts related to SIREN had been sent. The bots drive unsuspecting victims to a network of pornographic websites. The researchers informed Twitter about the campaign, which prompted the microblogging site to remove them. ZeroFOX said Twitter was “prompt and efficient” in the takedown of the malicious botnet. (See also: Twitter Hires Former Goldman and Intuit Exec Ned Segal as CFO.)

“To our knowledge, the botnet is one of the largest malicious campaigns ever recorded on a social network,” wrote the research group in a blog post this week. “Previously discovered botnets of this magnitude displayed benign end goals such as generating Star Wars quotes en masse, however SIREN is in clear violation of Twitter’s Terms of Service.”

A Twitter bot is a software program that sends out automated posts on Twitter. Most work by sending out tweets periodically or responding to instances of specific phrases in user messages. The bots can identify keywords and find content accordingly and some can even answer inquiries using natural language algorithms, according to MIT Technology Review.

Fake Dating Scam

According to ZeroFOX Threat Research, all of the close to 90,000 accounts included a suggestive photo of a woman as the profile picture and a female name. The accounts either engaged directly with a user by quoting one of their tweets or lured targets to the profile where the malicious link was housed. Once a victim clicked on the link, they eventually landed on websites that try to get them to pay for subscriptions to porn, webcam services or fake dating services. SIREN was able to get more than 30 million clicks from Twitter with a small portion providing payment information to the websites they were enticed to visit. The huge scale of the SIREN botnet showcases just how lucrative fake dating and romance scam websites continue to be for spammers. ZeroFOX said the actors running the scam appear to be from Eastern Europe. (See also: Twitter May Not Hit 2% Growth: JPMorgan.)

This isn’t the first time Twitter has had a problem with bots on its social network. In March, the University of Southern California and Indiana University issued research that showed that perhaps as much as 15% of Twitter accounts are bots instead of people. Relying on more than a thousand different criteria to identify if an account is a bot, researchers found that 9% to 15% percent of the accounts aren’t humans. Given that the social media network had 319 million monthly active users at the time, 15% comes out to 48 million fake users. “Social media make it easy for accounts controlled by hybrid or automated approaches to create content and interact with other accounts,” the USC researchers wrote in their report. “Increasing evidence suggests that a growing amount of social media content is generated by autonomous entities known as social bots.”

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