‘Russian Twitter protests swamped by spam`

Russian activists allege that thousands of Twitter accounts were being used to drown out genuine dissent.

Last Updated: Dec 09, 2011, 19:27 PM IST

Moscow: Hijacked personal computers may have
helped drown out critical online chat about Russian strongman
Vladimir Putin and protests against irregularities in the poll
outcome, Internet security experts say.

Analysis of the many pro-Kremlin messages posted to some
discussions on Twitter suggested they were sent by machines.
Russian activists allege that thousands of Twitter
accounts were being used to drown out genuine dissent.

Maxim Goncharov, a senior researcher at security firm
Trend Micro, said the attack on Twitter had all the hallmarks
of being co-ordinated by a botnet.

This is a network of personal computers, usually running
Windows, that have been infected by a virus putting them under
the control of a cyber criminal, Goncharov was quoted as
saying by the BBC.

He said the machines, or bots, in this network had
targeted chatter about the protests in Moscow`s Triumphal
Square.

The protests followed accusations about irregularities
during Russia`s recent parliamentary elections.

Amid allegations of electoral fraud, Prime Minister
Putin`s United Russia party barely held onto its majority in
parliament, with results giving it about 50 per cent of the
vote, down from 64 per cent four years ago.

Some of the chatter on Twitter was organised around the
topic name, or hashtag, of #triumphalnaya.

"These bots succeeded in blocking the actual message feed
with that hashtag," he wrote.

The rate at which pro-government messages were posted,
about 10 per second, suggests they were being done
automatically rather than by individuals, said Goncharov.

"Whether the attack was supported officially or not is
not relevant," he said, "but we can now see how social media
has become the battlefield of a new war for freedom of
speech."

Security researcher Brian Krebs said activists inside
Russia followed Goncharov`s work with analysis of their own.
They discovered that thousands of Twitter accounts had
been used aggressively to drown out chat based around hashtags
used by protesters, he said.

The pattern of activity in these accounts and the users
they followed suggested many were created to "pollute the news
stream for the protester hashtags", said Krebs.

The Russian government has also taken steps to tackle the
protests by asking the VKontakte social network to block
chatter among activists, the report noted.

VKontakte was contacted by Russia`s Federal Security
Service and was asked to shut down groups discussing violent
protests.

PTI