Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) detained a Ukrainian national who is suspected of setting up a bot farm to sell fake online accounts, called bots, to Russian customers.

The suspect, a local tech specialist, allegedly used nearly 12,000 SIM cards of Ukrainian and Russian mobile operators to create fake user profiles in social networks, messengers and electronic wallets, SBU said on July 26. 

Using these bots, Russian customers could artificially increase the number of views, likes and comments in social media and video hosting services like YouTube.

SBU searched the suspect’s apartment near Ivano-Frankivsk, a regional capital of 230,500 people nearly 600 kilometers west of Kyiv, and seized the equipment used to create the bot farm. 

The photo shows the stacks of SIM cards used by a Ukrainian tech specialist to create bots for Russian customers. Russians used these bots to artificially increase the number of views, likes and comments on social networks and video hosting services.

Bot farms are common in Ukraine. Since 2018 the country has been “among the top sources” of bot activity, according to a report by Facebook. 

In March, SBU exposed a bot farm in Odesa used to create fake accounts spreading online propaganda and hate speech about Ukraine. A month earlier, Ukraine’s law enforcement uncovered a bot farm in Lviv that spread “destructive content” about Ukraine. The farm was operated by Russian intelligence. 

In Ukraine, bots are often used by political parties and PR agencies that use them to sway public opinion and promote fake stories about political opponents.

Ukraine’s Security Service detained a Ukrainian citizen on July 26 who used 12,000 SIM cards to create fake accounts, the so-called bots, for Russia. (State Security Service)

In April, Facebook removed over 1,000 fake accounts in Ukraine. The accounts were allegedly linked to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, ex-Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, head of the Dovira party Oleg Kulinich and lawmaker Andriy Derkach who was sanctioned by the U.S. in September for meddling in the 2020 presidential elections.  

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