In January 2017, the Star Wars Twitter botnet was accidentally discovered by two security researchers at University College London as they attempted to obtain a random sampling of English-language Twitter accounts for an unrelated research project. A Twitter botnet is a collection of automated Twitter accounts that work in unison for a specific purpose such as spamming, advertising, posting specific content, and generating fraudulent “likes” and followers. Tweets originating from unusual places such as deserts, oceans, and the Arctic captured their attention and, shortly after, they noted similarities between the accounts, namely, that most of them had posted random excerpts from Star Wars novels. Other similarities included the use of incomplete words in tweets, inconsistent hashtag usage, a lack of “retweets” or “mentions,” follower counts between 10 and 31, the total number of tweets posted equaling 11 or less, and the listing of “Twitter for Windows Phone” as the accounts’ source application. The researchers used this information to produce an algorithm to identify other bots with these traits and ultimately detected 356,957 Star Wars Twitter bots. This prompted them to create a website called That Is a Bot! designed to report suspected social media bots and botnets to researchers.
Reporting and Technical Details