Canadian charged with unleashing 'spambot' army on Twitch

A B.C. man accused of overwhelming the social media giant Twitch with an army of spambots faces an unprecedented charge of "mischief in relation to computer data." Brandan Lukas Apple is also subject to an unusual civil court order restraining him from harassing users of the site.

Brandan Lukus Apple subject to court order preventing him from spamming social media giant

A Twitch broadcaster watches as the chatlog on the right side of the screen fills with spam during a demonstration of software allegedly used to flood the social media giant. (YouTube)

A B.C. man accused of overwhelming the American social media giant Twitch with an army of spambots now faces an unprecedented charge of "mischief in relation to computer data."

Brandan Lukus Apple is also subject to an unusual civil order restraining him from creating or selling "any robot, bot, crawler, spider, blacklisting software or other software" aimed at harming the popular streaming service.

'Multiple repetitive messages'

Twitch Interactive hosts more than two million people from around the world who earn money by streaming video-game related content. The site claims to attract 100 million viewers each month, many of whom engage in chats with both Twitch broadcasters and each other in the channel's margins.

The incident which sparked the criminal mischief charge allegedly happened between February and May of 2017 when thousands of Twitch broadcasters were deluged with a crippling stream of racist, homophobic and otherwise harassing comments.

This Twitch broadcaster posted images of himself dealing with a deluge of spambots. Twitch obtained a court order against a Canadian accused of unleashing the online mayhem. (imgur)

According to a filing sworn in Port Coquitlam provincial court last month, Apple is accused of "wilfully causing multiple repetitive messages to be transmitted."

The criminal charge is separate from a B.C. Supreme Court civil action which saw Twitch file a notice of claim last April to stop the 20-year-old from running a web service that promised it could "be used to bomb/spam/flood any TwitchTV chat."

Volume of spam 'was enormous'

Apple did not file a defence in relation to the civil claim.

The Supreme Court documents describe a spambot as "a computer program used to send unsolicited messages (or spam) via email or other online forums." They claim that "spambot flooding" renders a broadcaster's chat service unusable.

This screen capture - posted to reddit - shows online reaction to a spam attack on social media giant Twitch in 2017. (imgur)

"Flooding overwhelms the chat service through the sheer volume of spam messages, ultimately disrupting the broadcaster's stream and the viewers' experience," Twitch claimed.

According to the civil action, more than 1,000 broadcaster channels were attacked with 150,000 messages.

"The volume of spam messages on the attacked channel was enormous. The bots were posting an average of 34 spam messages per minute, while on some channels the rate was 600 messages per minute," the claim says.

"Twitch has received hundreds of individual reports regarding spam messages containing racism, homophobia, sexual harassment, links to shock imagery, false implications of view-botting and soliciting child sex exploitation material." View-botting is manipulating the number of viewers a TwitchTV player appears to have in an effort to get others to click on their live stream.

'Simple service to flood/destroy just simply demolish'

The attacks sparked online anger. Frustrated broadcasters turned to forums where they posted images of screens full of obnoxious comments and images.

In Supreme Court, Twitch claimed its employees spent 300 hours tracing the deluge to a site called chatsurge.net — and Brandan Lukus Apple.

A chatsurge video entitled "How to flood Twitch" — a "simple service to flood, destroy, just simply demolish any TwitchTV chatroom" — can still be found on YouTube. It was posted last April.

This site dedicated to spamming Twitch updated its front page after the company went to B.C. Supreme Court to stop online attacks. (chatsurge)

During a three-minute demonstration, a broadcaster watches despondently as the chatlog beside her explodes with comments saying "you suck."

A few days after that video was posted, Supreme Court Justice Maria Morellato issued an order permanently restraining Apple from making or disseminating any products aimed at hurting Twitch.

No comment

Apple has not entered a plea in relation to the mischief charge, which has not been proven in court. His next appearance is in February.

The tall, heavyset young man had no comment on either the civil action or the criminal accusation this week when a CBC reporter knocked at the door of his Coquitlam home.

His residence sits at the end of a cul de sac, which borders a forest. Apple wore dark grey shorts and a light grey T-shirt, and his chin is lined with sparse facial hair.

He appeared surprised after descending the stairs to come to the door, but simply said "no" when asked if had anything he wanted to say.

Twitch declined comment on the charge. But in arguments for the civil order, the company claimed the attacks had disrupted service and "caused injury to Twitch's brand, goodwill, reputation and customer relationships."

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.