Dormant Twitter Botnet Uncovered By University College London
University College London researchers have discovered a dormant Twitter botnet that could be woken at any moment and cause havoc on the popular social media network.
The Star Wars botnet as it’s been called, first uncovered previously in their research, has over 350,000 bot accounts and could be used to spam, send malicious links, and even start fake trending topics to confuse users and/or spread fake news.
Now they have uncovered over half a million additional bots since their initial work. These bots were supposedly all created in 2013 and have remained dormant ever since. Some of the bots are tweeting at a mundane pace, but none of them are currently engaging in overly nefarious activity. Tweets coming from the bots are all robotic and similar. They also all appear to be coming from Windows Phone, meaning they are likely being controlled by the Twitter API.
The geographic locations of the host accounts for these bots result in nice, neat little rectangles across North America and Europe. The fake locations for these bots seem to all fall within these two geographic rectangles, perhaps chosen at random. The researchers analyzed the tweets coming from these rectangles and said the distribution of tweets is too perfect to have come from humans. They are perfectly uniform throughout the rectangle.
In the past, Twitter’s API has been able to be exploited by bots, making this very worrying if these bots are ever activated. It’s unclear at this point exactly what the intentions of the owner or owners of this botnet are.
The researchers are submitting their findings for publishing in a scientific journal, and then they have stated they will share their findings with Twitter in hopes of squashing this botnet before anything bad happens.