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Police crack down on Web site manipulators

Suspects accused of boosting hits to draw attention to political messages  PLAY AUDIO

Mar 18,2009
Police Monday raided the homes and offices of three netizens who allegedly manipulated public opinion at Agora, an online discussion forum operated by Daum, one of the country’s biggest portal sites.

The three are suspected of posting anti-government messages and using a computer program to boost hits on the messages to make them appear as the most-read items, assuring them more attention.

Cybercrime investigators at Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency are investigating whether they were attempting to create an anti-government atmosphere and spread anti-government postings on the online forum. They are also seeking to find out whether the trio intended to ignite mass anti-government protests such as those that rocked the country last year.

“Investigators found they used a computer program to artificially boost the number of hits on the particular postings [at Agora],” Jang Kwan-seung, the investigator in charge of the case, said in a press briefing yesterday. “In a computer [confiscated from one suspect], police found a hit count booster program.”

With the automatic count booster program, the suspects allegedly increased hits on their own postings, manipulating the system so that it appeared that 7 to 20 visitors accessed their messages per second.

One of the suspects allegedly generated over a million hits after posting 20 messages on Agora over 15 days last month, the investigator said. He added, “It is physically impossible to cause such [a tremendous number of] hits by mouse clicking.”

According to police, Daum is already running a security measure to block attempts by netizens to artificially boost hit counts on certain messages, but the system was skirted by the hit-boost program.

Jeong Ji-eun, the director of public relations at Daum, said the company operates a “1 minute limit system” that prevents a site user’s attempts to boost hit counts. When one user tries to keep clicking or punching the F5 button on the same post multiple times within a minute, the system automatically calculates the clicks as only one.

The three suspects are accused of using a special computer program that deactivates the portal’s click reader, the investigator said.

After analyzing the materials confiscated in the raid, police plan to charge the suspects with obstructing Daum’s business. They are also investigating whether there are others involved.

Police began a secret investigation into the case last September after they received reports that some of the anti-government postings were being manipulated.

They say they obtained evidence that eight IP addresses were being used to generate phony hits. They identified three netizens residing in Seoul and Suncheon, South Jeolla as using four of the eight addresses. Police raided their homes and offices on Monday after obtaining search warrants.

Meanwhile, outspoken government critic Chin Jung-kwon, a professor of German at Chung-Ang University, posted a message criticizing the police. In his post titled “Police contracted rabies,” he questioned whether the police action was appropriate.

“I think the police plan to charge them with obstructing Daum’s business is interesting. Daum should be the one filing complaints on that issue ... While Daum is remaining idle, police [voluntarily] sprang into action ... ‘You have had your business interrupted. We will punish them for you.’”

He added, “Where on the earth is a state that arrests people for repeatedly clicking a story on a bulletin board? This should be a Guinness World Record for nonsense.”




By E Choong-hyoung, Kim Mi-ju Staff Reporter [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]


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