Not all the Twitter accounts have created by humans, and researchers recently caught wind of no less than 3 million such accounts that were all created on the same day two years ago, but which are still active today.
The 3 million accounts were all created on April 17, 2014 and feature serialized names, starting with @sfa_2000000000 and going all the way to @sfa_2002999999, with only a dozen accounts missing from the list. What’s more, each and every one of these accounts has the same number as its Twitter ID, a unique number that cannot be changed and which is assigned at registration (though can be pre-reserved).
The botnet was discovered by the people behind Sadbottrue.com, who claim that the IDs for all of the 3 million Twitter bots were reserved on the same day, October 22, 2013. Moreover, they say that a whopping 168 million IDs were actually reserved on that day, and that the rest of these IDs remain unused to date, except for those forming two other, much smaller botnets.
Each of these botnets contains 100,000 accounts each, also with the ID in a name, and also created in a row. One was created between 3 and 5 March 2015 and contains the accounts from @cas_2050000000 to @cas_2050099999, while the other was created between from 23 October and 22 November 2014, with accounts from @wt_2050100000 to @wt_2050199999.
Following the Twitter account with ID 1,979,689,039, there is a 20 million IDs gap before the 3 million accounts that form the botnet begin. After that, there’s another 144 million IDs gap, and the next regularly registered account has the ID 2,147,483,653. The registration continued normally after that, Sadbottrue.com says.
The most popular of the said 3 million accounts appears to be @sfa_2000000000, which has roughly 3 million followers and which has posted 182,000 tweets to date. The account is protected, meaning that only confirmed followers have access to more details on it, and has the following description: “some kinda description.” This is the description of the rest of the accounts as well.
The 3 million accounts botnet is responsible for a total of 2.6 billion tweets (including retweets), with a daily activity of 500 million tweets. According to Sadbottrue.com, “this botnet has made the same number of tweets as all Twitter users combined for 5 days. Or this amount of tweets is enough to handle on world top any hashtag for 8 years permanently.”
Each of these accounts is an exact copy of the previous account, albeit their stats differ: one is very active, with nearly half a million tweets, another is following over one million accounts, etc. However, it appears that the accounts forming this botnet have no visible connections to the other botnets or accounts on Twitter.
“The botnet was created specially to be undetectable,” Sadbottrue.com editor Vlad Shevtsov told SecurityWeek in an email. He also said that because these accounts are protected, there’s no way of knowing what their tweets are all about, but that there’s little chance that they spam or advertising messages.
The reason for that, Shevtsov says, is because the likes and retweets of these accounts are taken into consideration when statistics are concerned, while hashtags are included in the counted Top Trending stats. Although the retweets and hashtags of these protected accounts are not visible, the botnet is a trend-setter, and this is the kind of nefarious activity that it has been engaged in for the past two years –other botnets on Twitter did the same, Shevtsov says.
Moreover, while the bottom line of the story would be that a “0-day 3 million stealth twitter botnet with 2.6 billion tweets was exploited for 2 years,” there’s another disturbing fact that should not be forgotten: the botnet activity should have been spotted and ended by Twitter. Why it hasn’t is simple, Shevtsov says: one of the company’s top executives is involved in this operation.
According to him, only a “superadmin” would have enough power to reserve 168,000,000 IDs in one swift move, and the botnet cannot be registered without the consent of Twitter officials. If the ID reservation, the massive account creation (3 million accounts in a single day, or 35.4 per second, on average) and the 2.6 billion tweets for two years were “made by hackers, we have the sad news for Twitter’s shareholders,” Shevtsov says.
We’ve contacted Twitter for an official comment on this botnet, but haven’t heard back from them. We will update the post as soon as they reply to our email.
SFA (supposedly coming from “Serial Fake Account”), however, is not the only botnet on Twitter. In fact, Sadbottrue.com previously revealed that there are 18,000,000 bots among the active Twitter users, and that most of them have more friends than followers, meaning that they were created just for following other accounts. According to Sadbottrue.com, 1M followers on Twitter could cost as low as $400, while the count of fake followers sold worldwide is of more than 1 billion combined.
Over the past several months, Twitter has been very active when the safety of its users was involved. In February, the company announced that it had suspended over 125,000 accounts for threatening or promoting terrorist acts, and that it formed the Twitter Trust & Safety Council, which should boost user trust across the social media network. Earlier this month, when more than 32 million Twitter account credentials emerged on the dark web, the company was quick to say that its systems haven’t been breached and that the accounts were compromised by other means.