Researchers uncover dormant botnet of 350,000 phony Twitter accounts

A massive botnet secretly infiltrated the Twitterverse in 2013 but has lain mysteriously dormant since then, say researchers.

❝ The rise of the Twitter bot has plagued the online world in recent years. These are Twitter accounts that are automated and require little or no human intervention. Many are entirely legitimate, publishing headlines and links to news stories.

But others are malicious. These Twitter bots produce spam, provide fake followers for anybody willing to pay, and can manipulate debates and public opinion in insidious ways that are hard to track and prevent. The effects of large swarms of Twitter bots — so-called botnets — are largely unknown…

❝ Today that changes thanks to the work of Juan Echeverria and Shi Zhou at University College London. These cybersecurity experts have stumbled across a Twitter botnet consisting of more than 350,000 automated accounts, a network of almost unimaginable proportions, that has existed undetected since 2013…its longevity raises serious questions about the potential impact of botnets and the way they are tracked and monitored…

❝ A simple assessment of the…accounts that created these tweets showed they had much in common. These accounts had never published more than 11 tweets, they never had more than 10 followers and less than 31 friends. They were all produced by Twitter for Windows phones.

But reading the tweets, Echeverria and Zhou realized that they all contained random quotations from Star Wars novels with hashtags inserted at random. A typical tweet is: “Luke’s answer was to put on an extra burst of speed. There were only ten meters #separating them now.”…

❝ …The researchers trained a machine-learning algorithm to recognize Star Wars bots and set it loose on a much larger database of 14 million English-speaking Twitter users.

The results were a shock. The machine-learning algorithm, with the help of some manual filtering, found some 350,000 accounts that had the same characteristics. These accounts had never tweeted more than 11 times, had fewer than 31 friends and were all produced by Twitter for Windows Phone.

What’s more, this entire botnet was created in just a few days in June and July 2013. At the time, it produced 150,000 tweets a day…Then it stopped. “When the creation of new Star Wars bots stopped on 14 July 2013, all the bots suddenly fell silent and remained so ever since…”

So what might these fake Twitter accounts be for? Although the accounts have been silent for some time, this makes them valuable since they are less likely now to be labeled as fake. For this reason, pre-aged bots have significant value on the black market…

❝ Clearly, the discovery of this giant botnet raises important questions about the extent to which the Twitterverse has been infiltrated by bots that can influence the dynamics of conversations, opinions, and even elections. The work leaves open the crucial question of who set up this botnet and why.

BTW – Echeverria and Zhou report they “…have recently discovered another botnet with more than 500k bots”.

Use of contraception did more to reduce abortions than restrictive laws – of course

❝ US women are having abortions at the lowest rate on record since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, according to a new report. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, the abortion rate has been steadily declining for decades.

❝ The new report comes from a massive census of US abortion providers taken every three years by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization that supports legal abortion. It’s surprisingly difficult to get accurate data on abortion in the US…but Guttmacher’s census is the most comprehensive available on the subject…

❝ The abortion ratio — the proportion of abortions to live births — is also down to historic lows. In 1995, the abortion ratio was about 26 abortions for every 100 live births; in 2014, it was 18.8…

The abortion rate mostly fell because more women used birth control, and used more reliable methods…

But abortion rates in the US have been falling even faster than usual since 2008 — 3 or 4 percent per year instead of about 2. And while Guttmacher researchers Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman caution that more research is needed to fully understand the link between abortion access and abortion rates, better contraception appears to be the main reason.

RTFA for a reasoned discussion about conclusions drawn by pro-choice scientists relying on data vs anti-abortion rights ideologues whose belief systems ignore credible data.

Sound familiar?

Women’s March on Washington more than double predicted size — more than showed for inauguration


Support demonstration in BerlinAP/Michael Sohn

9:40AM EST

A city official in Washington says the turnout estimate for the Women’s March on the National Mall now stands at 500,000 people. That’s more than double the initial predictions.

Kevin Donahue is Washington’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice. He says on Twitter that organizers of the march are increasing the turnout estimate to half a million.

There were early signs across Washington that Saturday’s crowds could top those that gathered on Friday to watch President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Keep on rocking in the Free World!

Earth three-peats hottest year record

❝ Earth sizzled to a third-straight record hot year in 2016, with scientists mostly blaming man-made global warming with help from a natural El Nino that’s now gone.

Two U.S. agencies and international weather groups reported Wednesday that last year was the warmest on record. They measure global temperatures in slightly different ways, and came up with a range of increases, from minuscule to what top American climate scientists described as substantial.

They’re “all singing the same song even if they are hitting different notes along the way. The pattern is very clear,” said Deke Arndt of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

“This is clearly a record,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. “We are now no longer only looking at something that only scientists can see, but is apparent to people in our daily lives.”

❝ Temperature records go back to 1880. This is the fifth time in a dozen years that the globe has set a new annual heat record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005…

Schmidt said his calculations show most of the record heat was from heat-trapping gases from the burning of oil, coal and gas. Only about 12 percent was due to El Nino, which is a periodic warming of parts of the Pacific that change weather globally, he said. Arndt put the El Nino factor closer to a quarter or a third…

❝ The effects are more than just records, but actually hurt people and the environment, said Oklahoma University meteorology professor Jason Furtado. They’re “harmful on several levels, including human welfare, ecology, economics, and even geopolitics,” he said.

I’ll second that emotion.

Infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports — all suck, all need repair


Michigan fixes road the way they fix water supplies

❝ The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that the nation’s highways and bridges face an $808.2 billion backlog of investment spending, including $479.1 billion in critically needed repairs. More than two-thirds of the nation’s roads and nearly 143,000 bridges are classified in “dire need” of repair or upgrades. U.S. ports are clogged and need dredging to improve the flow of goods; railroad tracks need modernizing; airport communications technology needs updating and expansion; and urban mass transit is old and inadequate. As president, Trump wants to rebuild America’s core…

If you think the whole of these needs or a significant portion will produce a campfire singalong between elite Democrats, Progressive Democrats, Opportunist Democrats, Teapublicans, Trumpublicans, Hoover Republicans, elite Republicans — I might offer you a deal on one of those bridges. In Brooklyn.

Six agencies, federal cops, investigate Russia paying for pro-Trump hackers


“Oh, Look. This one has Donald’s name engraved on it.”

❝ The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump…

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence…

❝ Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers…two sources said.

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump…

❝ Trump’s presidential transition team did not respond to a request for comment about the inquiry.

❝ FBI Director Comey refused at a recent Senate hearing to comment on whether the bureau was investigating Russia’s hacking campaign for possible criminal prosecutions. Spokespeople for the FBI, the Justice Department and the national intelligence director declined to comment…

❝ The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia…

RTFA for the whole context. Importantly, this started before the Chris Steele dossier surfaced with the FBI. That the FBI was able to get a FISA warrant indicates they were able to establish probable cause the target was a foreign power – and the surveillance was likely to produce foreign intelligence.