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”.

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.

New Jersey town sues DuPont for toxic waste dumping bigger than Exxon Valdez oil spill


Click to enlargeWilliam Bretzger/The News Journal

❝ A small town in New Jersey has sued DuPont for $1.1 billion, claiming it dumped more than 100 million lbs. of toxic waste into soil and water near the Delaware River, “a disaster worse than Exxon Valdez” that will take 1,000 years to clean up.

❝ Carneys Point Township is a town of about 8,000 near the eastern end of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Its December lawsuit in Salem County Superior Court involves the cleanup of the Chambers Work Site, where Teflon was invented in 1938.

The site has been linked to cancer clusters in the area, which includes Carneys Point.

❝ DuPont began operating at the site in 1892 as a gunpowder mill, then transformed it onto a 1,400-acre chemical manufacturing complex that used hazardous substances including mercury, benzene and ethyl chloride.

Thousands of New Jersey residents have sued DuPont for contaminating their drinking water at the site. One such case was settled in 1993 for almost $40 million. DuPont did not admit liability…

❝ The town asks the court to calculate the penalties due under the Industrial Site Recovery Act — tens of thousands of dollars per day multiplied by years, and compel DuPont to establish a remediation trust as required by law.

It says the remediation trust should be $1.126 billion…

DuPont spokesman Dan Turner declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Not especially interested in what DuPont PR flacks have to say in the company’s defense. Responsibility is the operative process. DuPont must be made to pay up for the damages caused to generations of residents by their careless, thoughtless, profit-mills.

Colors of Confinement

❝ In 1942, Bill Manbo and his family were forced from their Hollywood home into the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a Japanese American internment camp in Wyoming. While there, Manbo documented both the bleakness and beauty of his surroundings using Kodachrome film—a technology then just seven years old—to capture community celebrations and to record his family’s struggle to maintain a normal life under the harsh conditions of racial imprisonment.

We live in a nation cruel enough, racist, sufficiently ignorant to repeat both the crime and folly of concentration camps for Americans judged by their religion, ethnicity, whatever trips the trigger of bigotry.

I fear we may yet repeat this crime.

Germany prepares to fine Facebook €500,000 for every fake or hate-filled post

❝ Germany has lost patience with Facebook.

After years of asking, cajoling and threatening the US social network to work faster to tackle fake news and hate speech, Berlin has announced a new law hitting Facebook with a €500,000 fine for every problematic post that doesn’t vanish within 24 hours.

❝ A day after Facebook announced new procedures to tackle fake news, Berlin made clear it is no longer interested in self-regulation

…New legislation in the new year…will oblige all dominant internet platforms operating in Germany to have a legal contact, operating round-the-clock, for victims of hate speech and fake news. At present, German Facebook users complain that complaints are forwarded to its international headquarters in Dublin – with an unclear response and action time.

“If, after checking, Facebook doesn’t delete the post in question within 24 hours, it can reckon with severe fines of up to €500,000,” said Thomas Oppermann, Bundestag floor leader of Germany’s ruling SPD. In addition, he said, the person affected will be able to demand a “correction with the same reach” as the original post…

Keep an eye on this one. While there’s little chance of the GOUSA ever making hate speech illegal, laws affecting a portion of Facebook’s income stream as large as Germany and thenceforth the EU – laws applied in that marketplace may set standards for the larger communications entity.

Trump and Putin agree to restart the nuclear arms race

❝ Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech Thursday in which he praised his country’s military operations on behalf of the government of Syria and made a case for how Russia could become stronger.

“We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces,” he said, according to an Agence France-Presse translation, “especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defense systems.” In other words, Russia needs to ensure that its arsenal of nuclear weapons can avoid interception by the enemy.

The primary enemy that might intercept those missiles is, of course, the United States and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

❝ The language echoes old Cold War rhetoric: Our missiles must be able to serve as a deterrent to usage, by existing as a threat to enemies. If NATO and the United States felt confident that Russia’s incoming nuclear weapons could be stopped before reaching their targets, the weapons do not hold the same power for Russia.

You can’t have a new nuclear arms race, of course, without someone to run against. Enter President-elect Donald Trump.

screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-6-40-30-pm

Not only is the construct a non sequitur – backwards, fiscally and environmentally-destructive comes to mind.

❝ The trend since the late 1980s has been in the opposite direction, winding down the stockpiles of weapons held by the United States and Russia…

As always, it’s fraught to take one Trump tweet as a descriptor of where his presidency might be headed.

The difficulty lies in differentiating between ignorance, stupidity and bald-faced lies contrived to inflate Trump’s hot air balloon-size ego.

RTFA if you care to wander through the garden of infamy continuing to be sown over the manure-heap that is American politics. I refuse to waste time trying to make sense of Trump’s demented blather.

Feds say they will disclose an estimate of Americans spied upon early in 2017


I’ll be keeping an eye on all of you

❝ The U.S. intelligence community will soon disclose an estimate of the number of Americans whose electronic communications have been caught in the crosshairs of online surveillance programs intended for foreigners…

The estimate, requested by members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, is expected to be made public as early as next month…Its disclosure would come as Congress is expected to begin debate in the coming months over whether to reauthorize or reform the so-called surveillance authority, known as Section 702, a provision that was added to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008…

❝ The government has long held that calculating the number of Americans subject to Section 702 surveillance might be technically impossible and would require privacy intrusions exceeding those raised by the actual surveillance programs…blah, blah, blah…!

Intelligence officials have said that online data about Americans is “incidentally” collected under Section 702, due to a range of technical and practical reasons. Critics have assailed such collection as back-door surveillance of Americans without a warrant.

❝ Section 702 will expire on Dec. 31, 2017, absent congressional action. It enables two internet surveillance programs called Prism and Upstream that were revealed in a series of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden more than three years ago.

Prism gathers messaging data from…Google, Facebook , Microsoft, Apple and other major tech companies that is sent to and from a foreign target under surveillance. Upstream allows the NSA to copy web traffic flowing along the internet backbone located inside the United States and search that data for certain terms associated with a target.

The priority for government spooks, from the NSA to the FBI is mining data. The more the merrier as far as official scumbags are concerned. Privacy is meaningless, not a human right, not constitutionally protected…for their remit as spies. None of us are exempt.

Our Congress-critters have collectively rolled over and stuck their feet in the air, time and again. They may as well be listening to Gulf of Tonkin declarations or Dick Cheney’s contrived WMDs. No serious questioning comes from pimps for the military-industrial complex. Only a few voices from a few souls touched with integrity.

100,000 dead, 30,000 missing — Mexico’s war on drugs turns 10 years old

Ten years after Mexico declared a war on drugs, the offensive has left some major drug cartels splintered and many old-line kingpins like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in jail, but done little to reduce crime or violence in the nation’s roughest regions.

❝ Some say the war has been a crucial, but flawed, effort. Others argue the offensive begun by then-President Felipe Calderon on Dec. 11, 2006, unleashed an unnecessary tragedy with more than 100,000 people dead and about 30,000 missing – a toll comparable to the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

In some places, homicide rates have lessened. In others, the killings continue unabated. The drawn-out conflict has also had a profound effect on those close to the cross-hairs of suffering: youths inured to extreme violence; adults so fed-up with poor and corrupt policing that they took up arms as vigilantes; and families who banded together in the face of authorities’ inability to find their vanished loved ones…

❝ Mexico’s armed forces have increasingly been pulled into the conflict because police forces are often corrupt or unreliable. That has had its own toll on the troops, who are frequently ambushed and accused of illegally executing detained cartel suspects in some cases.

Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos noted that the army’s involvement was only supposed to be temporary while policing was reformed.

“Ten years ago it was decided that the police should be rebuilt, and we still haven’t seen that reconstruction,” Cienfuegos said. “This isn’t something that can be solved with bullets. It requires other measures, and there has not been decisive action on budgets to make that happen.”…

❝ “Things are the same as far as crime,” said Hipolito Mora, the founder of one of the first “self-defense” militias. “The government has to do more to combat the corruption in itself. If they don’t do that, nothing is going to work. It is the corruption within the government that creates tolerance for organized crime.”…

Corruption, large and small, flourishes because it continues as part of the culture of the political rulers of Mexico. Public efforts to clean up even local government generally are little more than window dressing. There are exceptions. They are in spite of the national government – not because of aid from the government.

The Secret Service bagged their biggest haul of counterfeit US currency — $30 million from Peru

❝ The product is carefully created in rural facilities throughout the Peruvian countryside using cheap labor, then hoarded in stash houses controlled by violent gangs in Lima.

Once there, the goods are packed into parcels, loaded onto planes or hidden inside luggage, pottery, hollowed-out Bibles, sneakers, children’s toys or massive shipping containers bound for major U.S. ports of entry, such as Miami.

The product’s ultimate destination, according to the U.S. Secret Service, is generally New York, New Jersey, Boston and the greater Northeast.

❝ It’s here, federal authorities say, that a few powerful organizations pass the product to splinter groups that control the streets, reaping huge financial rewards before authorities have time to react.

It’s an illicit trade that bears an uncanny resemblance to narcotrafficking, and while there is some overlap between the two activities, this “product” has nothing to do with cocaine.

❝ But the profits created by smuggling the counterfeit currency known as the “Peruvian note” — generally considered the finest fake money on the planet — are just as staggering, if not more so, according to the Secret Service. Responsible for producing and distributing an estimated 60 percent of the world’s counterfeit U.S. notes, more fake American money comes from Peru than any other country, according to the Secret Service, which has been combating the currency’s rise since 2003…

❝ Once inside the United States, the currency might be used in low-level street crime, for Craigslist purchases, or in larger schemes that target big-box retailers.

The ruse ends at the bank, noted Don Brewer, the former Secret Service agent. He said banks rely on counting machines that can immediately separate fake bills from authentic ones by analyzing magnetic ink on legitimate currency.

By that time, however, the damage — to small businesses in particular — is already done.

RTFA. Entertaining — that is, as entertaining as crime can be. The generational skills used in Peru are an interesting counterpoint to our domestic flavor of techie counterfeiter whose skills are “good enough”.

Trump chooses El Chapo to run the Drug Enforcement Agency

❝ Just days after picking Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education, President-elect Donald Trump has tapped another wealthy outsider by naming Joaquín Guzmán, known as “El Chapo,” to head the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In an official statement, Trump said that El Chapo’s “tremendous success in the private sector” showed that he has what it takes to “shake things up” at the D.E.A…

❝ When asked why Trump had readily offered a job to El Chapo while still mulling the fate of another former adversary, Mitt Romney, Trump surrogate Kellyanne Conway said, “El Chapo might not have voted for Mr. Trump, but that’s because he’s Mexican and in jail, and Mitt Romney is neither.”

❝ The appointment of the former drug kingpin is far from a done deal, however, as associates of El Chapo report that he is “concerned” that being a member of the Trump Administration would be bad for his brand.

Read all of this short piece by Andy Borowitz. I’m surprised Trump hasn’t tried to take out a contract on him for any of the satirical pieces Borowitz has produced for the NEW YORKER – about Trump and scumbags like him.