Ukraine police bust another bot farm accused of pro-Russia propaganda, internet fraud
Ukraine's Cyber Police shut down yet another bot farm that was reportedly spreading disinformation about the war in Ukraine on social media, just one month after a similar illicit operation was raided in west-central Ukraine.
The newly discovered bot farm was larger than previous ones, with over 100 individuals participating from various locations across Ukraine. Bot farm administrators created fake accounts on various social media platforms using around 150,000 SIM cards from different mobile operators, authorities said.
These bots carried out information and psychological operations on behalf of Russia, including justifying the actions of Russian soldiers in Ukraine and distributing illegal content, officials announced on Monday.
The Ukrainian cyber police have also accused the bot farm administrators of internet fraud, including the illegal sharing of personal data of Ukrainian citizens and spreading fake messages about purported security threats.
During the investigation, law enforcement conducted 21 searches and seized computer equipment, mobile phones, and SIM cards.
Bot farms have been used by Russia to spread propaganda and create panic during the war. The people involved in running the bot farms usually receive payments in Russian rubles, which is a prohibited currency in Ukraine. To convert the rubles into usable funds, the perpetrators mostly use sanctioned payment systems like WebMoney and PerfectMoney to convert the funds into cryptocurrency and transfer it to bank cards.
Confiscated SIM cards. Image: Ukraine Cyber Police
Administrators typically set up bot farms in their own homes or in deserted buildings, where they use servers and SIM cards to create and run fake accounts.
Unauthorized interference in the operation of information and electronic communication networks is considered a crime under the Ukrainian Criminal Code, and can result in prison time.
Daryna Antoniuk is a freelance reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.