When Bots Go Bad: Twitter’s Cryptocurrency Thieves
Blockchain technology is pretty neat. It can be used to authentic voting, or as a proof of ownership. Some developers are investigating ways use blockchain to strengthen the internet and expand its reach into places that might not be able to get internet through traditional means. Not to mention that by decentralizing the internet, we may be able to escape the data gathering and activity monitoring landscape that the current internet has become. Yet when many people think of blockchain technology, their mind immediately turns to Bitcoin.
Another interesting maligned piece of internet technology is the bot. Now, all a bot is is a software program that runs a script, automating various kinds of tasks. Some, like Cleverbot, exist simply to be spoken to, while others will handle your finances. One of my favorites searches out haikus in texts and formats them appropriately. Bots can be all kinds of useful, but many get a bad reputation because a few bad actors such as spambots and botnets.
These two technologies have recently merged together, creating a plague of spambots on Twitter, mimicking popular users and offering fake cryptocurrency giveaways. These bots operate in the typical ponzi scheme fashion; they send out links to a website with instructions that interested investors need to buy a small amount of cryptocurrency to verify their address, then they’d receive a large amount of cryptocurrency in return.
The easiest way to avoid getting tricked by these schemes is to be suspicious. For example, if you look closely at this tweet, you can see that the username is @alon_musk
Naturally, what really happens is that the scammer takes off with your money, leaving you a few bucks short. Though cryptocurrencies aren’t worth what they used to be, a full Bitcoin is still worth over $6000, and an Ether averages $450. Unfortunately, cryptocurrencies are still virtually useless as a currency outside of internet, but since people are still generating and trading them, they still count for something.
This graph from coindesk.com shows just how much the value of Bitcoin can vary over the course of the day. Though the fluctuations aren’t nearly as drastic as they used to be, Bitcoin still remains an unstable form of currency.
But while all this is happening, Twitter isn’t exactly sitting idle and letting spambots roam free. At the end of June this year, Twitter announced that they were strengthening their account verification process and running historical audits to catch spammers who signed up prior to the security increase. On top of that, they recently purged about 70 million fake accounts, which counts for approximately 20% of their user base. It’s given investors a bit of a spook, but Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal is confident that the purge won’t affect reported metrics.
It’s also not the first time Twitter has purged spambots either; right at the beginning of the year, Twitter purged thousands of accounts, causing all sorts of social media influencers to cry out about their reduced follower counts. Though it’s good to see that Twitter is taking action on a grand scale, these actions won’t really have a lot of effect on the average user experience. So in the meantime, what can you do to protect yourself from bots?
the sweet-pitch banded— moth generator (@mothgenerator) September 1, 2015
gaecasiophora piniana pic.twitter.com/7r2Xyetw2D
Although the end goal of the cryptocurreny scambots is a bit different than that of a phishing attack (which ask for personal information or banking details), it’s not a bad idea to treat them the same way. Watch for shortened links and be wary of any “giveaway” asking for an intitial deposit. Many of these scambots attempt to copy actual Twitter users as closely as possible, so check the account itself to make sure it’s behaving like a human.
Luckily, not all bots on Twitter are bad. There are many that exist to perform functions, such as Dear Assistant, which answers questions users tweet at it, and Netflix Bot, which announces when new shows are released. A lot of other fun bots look for poetry in other users’ tweets, and Big Ben announces the hour with the appropriate number of “bongs.” Luckily, it seems that Twitter can tell the difference between good and bad bots, and it hasn’t been purging any of these lighthearted mood boosters, so there’s still plenty of good bot content to enjoy.
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