Ukraine police raid social media bot farm accused of pro-Russia propaganda
Ukraine's Cyber Police have shut down a bot farm allegedly spreading disinformation on social media in an attempt to sway public opinion about Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Officials announced on Monday that the bot farm administrators managed over 4,000 fraudulent accounts pretending to belong to Ukrainian citizens. These accounts were used to “criticize the Ukrainian armed forces, justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and create political tension in the country,” the police said.
According to the police statement, the people involved in running the bot farm were receiving payments in Russian rubles, which is a prohibited currency in Ukraine. Altogether, they earned around $13,500 per month. To convert the rubles into usable funds, the perpetrators used sanctioned payment systems like WebMoney and PerfectMoney to convert the funds into cryptocurrency and transfer it onto bank cards.
Ukrainian law enforcement detained three suspects from the Vinnytsia region in west-central Ukraine. Every day, they allegedly registered about 500 fake accounts on various social networks, e-commerce platforms, and messaging apps. If found guilty, they could receive a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
The farm was located in an abandoned garage. During the search, law enforcement officers seized computers, mobile phones, over 3,300 SIM cards from Ukrainian and European mobile operators, and bank cards that were used to receive payments from Russian clients.
Ukrainian police confiscated thousands of SIM cards. Image: Ukraine's Cyber Police
The arrest highlights how automated accounts are being used to spread propaganda and sew panic during the war. Earlier in December, the cyber police seized more than 100,000 SIM cards used to register bot accounts that spread pro-Russia narratives on various social media sites.
Perpetrators 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 carry 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.