A Bot Is Flooding The FCC Website With Fake Anti-Net Neutrality Comments... In Alphabetical Order

from the faux-outrage dept

As previously noted, the FCC has begun fielding comments on its plan to dismantle net neutrality protections. As of the writing of this post, nearly 556,000 users have left comments on the FCC's plan to roll back the rules, which will begin in earnest with a likely 2-1 partisan vote on May 18. The lion's share of that comment total were driven by John Oliver's recent rant on HBO. Many others are the result of what I affectionately call "outrage-o-matic" e-mail campaigns by either net neutrality activists or think tanks that let people comment without having to expend calories on original thought.

Earlier in the week I was looking through the comments and noted how a large number of them all made the exact same (aggressively inaccurate) claim:

"The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama Administration imposed on the internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation. I urge the Federal Communications Commission to end the bureaucratic regulatory overreach of the internet known as Title II and restore the bipartisan light-touch regulatory consensus that enabled the internet to flourish for more than 20 years."

This in and of itself didn't seem like that big a deal, given the aforementioned campaigns often let commenters quickly file a form letter with the agency.

But it was notable that if this was a form letter, the people who were filling it out magically organized themselves in perfect alphabetical order. And when ZDNet decided to do a deeper dive into these alphabetical duplicate comments, they found that they appear to be produced by a bot that's grabbing the names from somewhere (perhaps public voter registration records or a previous data breach). What's more, the reporter managed to get a hold of many of the folks that purportedly filed the comments, and found several that state they never filed the comments in question, and have no idea what net neutrality even is:

"We reached out to two-dozen people by phone, and we left voicemails when nobody picked up. A couple of people late Tuesday called back and confirmed that they had not left any messages on the FCC's website. One of the returning callers specifically said they didn't know what net neutrality was. A third person reached in a Facebook message Tuesday also confirmed that they had not left any comments on any website."

Numerous Reddit users also spotted the bot campaign, and noted the language used by the 128,000 (and counting) phony commenters was pulled from a 2010 press release by the Center for Individual Freedom, which does not appear to be driving the comments with a corresponding campaign. As of this writing, nobody has identified the driver of the bot, and the FCC has stated it doesn't comment on public proceeding input.

ISPs do have a history of trying to artificially pad anti-net neutrality sentiment, since finding a critical mass of people who blindly support policies that only help companies like Comcast can be... difficult. As Vice News pointed out in 2014, a lobbying organization named the DCI Group (which receives funding from Verizon) paid individuals to flood websites and the FCC comment system with anti-net neutrality sentiement. Whether the work of a similar group, think tank, or other organization, you just know you have a quality argument when you need to pay people (or bot masters) to support your position.


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  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 10 May 2017 @ 10:47am

    Not that the congress critters are going to notice this without a gun to their head, but it took me all of about 10 seconds to notice the spam comments in alphabetical order by name. And to make it really fun, it starts with 2 Tiffanys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 10 May 2017 @ 10:52am

    Pai: "Guys guys! Turn the bots off, it's causing a scene. And my check hasn't cleared yet, what's the deal with that?
    And will I get that corner office? Oh and there was a typo in that speech your wrote for me. It's P A I not P I E.
    thanks. " /click

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 May 2017 @ 11:00am

    'the FCC has stated it doesn't comment on public proceeding input'

    We don't care if you can show us this is a scam, they support what we want to do so we won't look. We won't comment so it won't bite us in the ass later, but people are going to raise questions about why we decided to ignore someone stuffing the ballot box. This is how government works, whoever pays the most gets what they want & we are totally fine with them using citizens as bots in their army.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Zonker, 10 May 2017 @ 12:07pm

      Re:

      I would not be surprised to find out that the spam bot was set up by DCI Group on Verizon's behalf, maybe even using their own customer list as the source for the names.

      Regardless, I'm sure that Pai plans to claim the spam bot comment totals as though it were actual support for his position on eliminating net neutrality down the road. No tactic is too low for Verizon lawyers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 12:28pm

      Re:

      "why we decided to ignore someone stuffing the ballot box"
      stuffing the ballot box won't change Pai's decision; it's the stuffing of the wallet

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 11:00am

    Part of me thinks that this is just a pro-net neutrality person trying to discredit the anti-net neutrality side by making such an obvious bot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      That One Other Guy, 10 May 2017 @ 11:35am

      Re: I know that you know, that I know, that you know, that I know, that you know, that I know, that you know...

      I need a bot to finish that subject line, too much typing...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      NaBUru38 (profile), 10 May 2017 @ 2:57pm

      Re:

      Perhaps it was an anti-neutrality person trying to impersonate a pro-neutrality person trying to discredit the anti-neutrality, therefore trying to discredit the pro-neutrality.

      Or perhaps it was a pro-neutrality person trying to imperson an anti-neutrality person trying to impersonate a pro-neutrality person trying to discredit the anti-neutrality, who would try to discredit the pro-neutrality, therefore trying to discredit the anti-neutrality.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        A Passing Stranger, 11 May 2017 @ 9:51am

        Re: Re:

        Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - the most famous of which is "Never get involved in a land war in Asia" - but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when net neutrality is on the line"!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 10 May 2017 @ 11:12am

    YES!

    Obviously, SkyNet doesn't want net neutrality and the bots are beginning to fight back!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 10 May 2017 @ 11:26am

    As these processes get more and more automated they'll have to figure how to prevent fake comments from going in. Google has interesting efforts in that front that greatly help weed bots out with some nice precision from what I've read.

    In any case, the fact that they have to resort to bots while the net neutrality supporters just needed to raise awareness to get tons of people to mobilize speaks tons of how pro-consumer current FCC activities are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 11:37am

    Are these anti-neutrality bots included in their claimed DDOS numbers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, 10 May 2017 @ 11:39am

    Was surprised there was no Captcha in place...

    ... when I filed my comment. Have to wonder if the e-mails and phone numbers 'autofilled' by the bot will actually lead back to the bot herder.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      mhajicek (profile), 10 May 2017 @ 12:59pm

      Re: Was surprised there was no Captcha in place...

      A friend on another forum says the bot names correlate to a sex offender list.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 1:14pm

      Re: Was surprised there was no Captcha in place...

      You can do a lot of things to determine what is the bot and what is not. Bots usually have several quirks that will give them away pretty fast. It is more difficult with a bot-net, but it is usually still very possible to pinpoint most botnet-comments. Particularly if the attacker is sloppy enough to run it alphabetically.

      This case looks like the guy(s) running the bot(s) is doing some misrepresentation and several other not very legal things which would make for another reason for not acting: The case is referred to the police and will be dealt with as a criminal case. In such a situation the false comments are evidence...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 1:44pm

      Re: Was surprised there was no Captcha in place...

      Was surprised there was no Captcha in place...

      A lot of those discriminate against certain groups the federal government isn't allowed to discriminate against, such as blind people. (Some have an audio option, but those don't always work. I've never once solved Recaptcha's audio version.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 12:24pm

    Koch Brothers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 10 May 2017 @ 12:30pm

    We wouldn't have had a problem with bots if net neutrality didn't tie the hands of ISPs from managing their networks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      That One Other Guy, 10 May 2017 @ 12:47pm

      Re:

      Troll much?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 10 May 2017 @ 2:36pm

      Re:

      I'm all ears. How does NN tie the hands of ISPs managing their networks?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 4:24am

        Re: Re:

        The logistics seems a bit narly (24h manning? Legal requirements? All doable in less than 1h?), it would cause quite some collateral damage (people using TOR, VPN etc. can easily get targeted ad infinitum. Bye-bye censorship circumvention!) and it would be difficult to cut out the real cases from abuse-cases in court (the ISP is saving money by doing it...), but theoretically you can throttle ranges actively participating in a DDoS and thus weaken the impact of this type of attack.

        The other usecase for differentiated lines is the "priority lane" where certain traffic takes priority. That is, even more shady since "why avoid congestion?" and " why not sell priority lanes?" puts ISPs in a spot where they save money from ensuring congestion on the user-side and earns money from the congestion by selling priority lanes for internet companies. A free market with free throttling has more holes for abuse than a sieve.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Baron von Robber, 11 May 2017 @ 6:15am

          Re: Re: Re:

          That reply doesn't make much sense.
          NN is "the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites."

          So TOR, VPNs are guaranteed not be messed with. 24hr manning? that's going on already.
          A DDOS involving a network is likely has a client as the target. DDOS packets are identifiable and can be dropped at the client or with the ISP's help. No issue there.

          ISP can ensure no congestion by upgrading their switches, router and core routers. At 15k a pop, it's chump change to an ISP.

          There is no free market with ISPs right now. You have at best 2 ISPs to choose from. Hike that to 5 and then you have the begining of a free market.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            The Wanderer (profile), 11 May 2017 @ 8:09am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            I don't think that's quite correct.

            There are at least three facets to the principle of network neutrality:

            • The network should be content-neutral. That is, it should neither know nor care what the packets passing over it contain. (The moment you begin Deep Packet Inspection, you have violated this facet of the principle.)
            • The network should be source-neutral. That is, it should neither know nor care about what a given packet source may be; at most, it should only care about making sure that packets marked as coming from that source don't actually come from a different one (i.e., that they are not spoofed).
            • The network should be destination-neutral. That is, it should neither know nor care what a given destination may be; it should only care about making sure that a packet marked as being for that destination gets there.

            Network neutrality is the principle that "the network should be utterly indifferent to the contents and nature of the traffic passing over it" - that it should be content-, source-, and destination-neutral. A dumb pipe, in other words.

            (It would be possible to modify that somewhat, by agreeing on adjustments to the transport protocols whereby a given packet can request classification into "high throughput" or "low latency" or similar transport pools - but as far as I'm aware that hasn't been done, and even if it does happen, the maximum limit of what the network should care about is what the packet itself is requesting.)

            That should still leave room for traffic shaping, to rein in usage spikes which threaten to choke the pipes enough to prevent some traffic from getting through at all - as long as that shaping is applied to all traffic passing through the relevant bottlenecks, irrespective of source, destination, or content.

            That in turn should make it possible to address DDOS attacks, at least to some limited extent (and I might argue that if the cost of relaxing those limits is the loss of neutrality, the benefit of avoiding DDOS attacks at this layer is not worth it).

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Baron von Robber, 11 May 2017 @ 12:44pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              That is a good expanded explanation of NN that I agree with.

              My point of DDOS is that NN doesn't cause an issue with DDOS and that bottlenecks can be addressed with little effort on the ISP's part.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 3:51pm

      Re:

      That was sarcasm?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 12:39pm

    >aggressively innacurate

    Found a typo!

    ... or was it intentional?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 May 2017 @ 6:46pm

    "It's just cutting and pasting!" bellowed John Steele.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    My_Name_Here, 11 May 2017 @ 4:39am

    Will Leigh Edit This post too?

    I was just thinking that the whole thing smells of a setup.

    If they are smart enough to steal identities (obtain a good list from somewhere) you would think they would be smart enough to have some variances in the message sent. Sending identical messages is pretty much assuring that you will get spotted.

    Looks like the pro-NN crew trying to sandbag the anti forces by making them look like they are "cheating" the system.

    Someone is working way too hard to have screwed up the messages like that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 May 2017 @ 8:18pm

      Re: Will Leigh Edit This post too?

      Wow, fake nick posting again. Great job Leigh! I hope Shiva drags your pirate ass out to the back and puts a bullet through your forehead.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 5:18am

    Wowbagger the infinitely prolonged

    And it's your turn DentArthurDent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2017 @ 8:00am

    FCC site too sluggish and doesn't load properly > You can't submit a comment > Pai says because your session didn't make a comment, that obviously you must be part of a DDOS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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