Bot-Generated Shooting Threats Are Terrorizing Schools

A private school in Park Slope sent a letter to parents warning of an automated network sending threatening messages about a school shooter on social media.
Image: Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia.

Parents of students at the Brooklyn Friends School (BFS) in Park Slope, Brooklyn received a chilling letter Wednesday morning from Head of School Crissy Cáceres‎ warning of a threat to the school. The same letter, however, told parents that the threat was fake, part of what NYPD and the FBI believed was an automated attack sent by a bot farm somewhere in Russia or Ukraine.

“I am writing to inform you that during the early morning hours, our Instagram account received a message that we accessed minutes ago,” Cáceres‎’s letter said. “And it indicated a safety threat to our community.”

Fwd BFS I.jpg

Image: BFS School.

The use of bot networks to send automated threats is a common occurrence all over the world. Earlier this week, Security Services in Ukraine busted an alleged Russian bot farm in the city of Lviv. Three people were operating 18,000 to—among other things—send automated bomb threats.  

According to the letter, BFS and another school in the area had recently received threatening messages over social media. Some students also received threatening messages as reported by “I’m going to shoot up my school Berkely Caroll Park Slope new york with a MP 15 assault rifle and Glock 17 pistol with hundreds of rounds of ammunition and Livestream it on my Instagram,” the message received by a BFS student said.

BFS told parents that it had been in contact with the NYPD, who told the school that the threat wasn’t real. “They have shared that the NYPD investigation of the threat they received yesterday was confirmed to have been generated by a computer ‘bot,’” the letter to parents said. “The ‘bots’ associated with these IP addresses (generated mostly in South America, Russia, and Ukraine) have been sending frequent messages targeting schools in New York and other parts of the country.”

When reached for comment, BFS confirmed the contents of the letter and the details of the story.  “With the assurance from NYPD that this was not a credible threat, Brooklyn Friends School has remained open,” Brett Topel, Director of Communications at BFS told Motherboard “Our Head of School and Director of Security have continued to have follow up conversations with the NYPD.”

A spokesperson for the NYPD confirmed that it had determined the threats weren’t credible. “However, the NYPD and the FBI continue to investigate their origins,” it said. “Any specific threats received against New York schools will be handled individually based on established threat assessment criteria.”

There’s been a wave of threats across the country the past week. In D.C., five public and charter schools have evacuated three times this week after receiving bomb threats. Historically black colleges have also been threatened, as well as four high schools in Prince Goerge’s County. Police in D.C. have arrested a 16 year old suspect on suspicion of making some of these threats. Vice Presidential Husband Doug Emhoff was visiting one of the schools in D.C. when it was forced to evacuate. 

In all instances no explosive material was found and no violence committed. At this time, there is no connection between the threats against the schools in NYC and the bomb threats in D.C.