The last few weeks have seen multiple instances of problematic bots appearing in Discord channels. They bring tidings of gifts, but the reality is quite a bit different. Given so many more young kids and teens are at home during the current global lockdown, they may well see this scam bouncing around their chat channels. Worried parents may want to point them in this direction to learn about the warning signs.
What is Discord?Sorry, teens who’ve been pointed in this direction: You can skip this part. For anyone else who needs it, Discord is a mostly gaming-themed communication platform incorporating text, voice, and video. It’s not to be mixed up with Twitch, which is more geared toward live gaming streams, e-sports competitions, and older recordings of big events.
DIY bots: part of the ecosystemOne of the most interesting features of Discord is how anyone can make their own channel bot. Simply bolt one together, keep the authorization token safe, and invite it into your channel. If you run into a bot you like the look of in someone else’s channel, you can usually invite them back into your own (or somewhere else), but you’ll need to have “manage server permissions” on your account.
You have to do a little due diligence, as things can go wrong if you don’t keep your bot and account locked down. Additionally, the very openness available to build your own bot means people can pretty much make what they like. It’s up to you as a responsible Discord user to keep that in mind before inviting all and sundry into the channel. Not all bots have the best of intentions, as we’re about to find out.
Discord in bot land
Click to enlargeIf you’re minding your business in Discord, you could be sent a direct message similar to the one above. It looks official, calls itself “Twitch,” and goes on to say the following:
Exclusive partnershipIf there’s one thing people can appreciate in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s freebies. Clicking the blue text will pop open an invite notification:
We are super happy to announce that Discord has partnered with Twitch to show some love to our super great users! From April 05, 2020 until April 15, 2020 all our users will have access to Nitro Games
You have to invite me to your servers
Add bot to: [server selection goes here]It then goes on to give some stats about whatever bot you’re trying to invite. The one above has been active since April 13, 2019, and is used across 1,000 servers so it’s got a fair bit of visibility. As per the above notification, “This application cannot read your messages or send messages as you.”
This requires you to have manage server permissions in this server.
Sounds good, right? Except there are some holes in the free Nitro games story.
Nitro is a real premium service offered by Discord offering a variety of tools and functions for users. The problem is that the games offered by Nitro were shut down last October due to lack of use. What, exactly then, is being invited into servers?
Spam as a serviceMultiple Discord users have reported these bots in the last few days, mostly in relation to spam, nude pic channels, and the occasional potentially dubious download sitting on free file hosting websites. A few folks have mentioned phishing, though we’ve seen no direct links to actual phishes taking place at time of writing.
Another Discord user mentioned if given access, the bot will (amongst other things) ban everyone from the server and delete all channels, but considering the aim of the game here is to spam links and draw additional people in, this would seem to be counterproductive to the main goal of increasing traffic in specific servers.
Examples: Gaming spamHere’s one server offered up as a link from one of the bots as reported by a user on Twitter:
Click to enlargeThis claims to be an accounts center for the soon-to-be-smash-hit game Valorant, currently in closed Beta. The server owner explains they’d rather give accounts away than sell them to grow their channel, which is consistent with the bots we’ve seen spreading links rather than destroying channels. While they object to “botted invites,” claiming they’ll ban anyone shown to be inviting via bots, they’re also happy to suggest spamming links to grow their channel numbers.
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Examples: Discord goes XXXBefore we can stop and ponder our Valorant account invite frenzy, a new private message has arrived from a second bot. It looks the same as the last bogus Nitro invite, but with a specific addition:
You’ve been invited to join a server: JOIN = FREE DISCORD NITRO AND NUDESNudes? Well, that’s a twist.
Click to enlargeThis is a particularly busy location, with no fewer than 15,522 members and roughly 3,000 people online. The setup is quite locked down: There’s no content available unless you work for it, by virtue of sending invites to as many people as possible.
Click to enlargeThe Read Me essentially says little beyond "Invite people to get nudes."
Click to enlargeElsewhere it promotes a “nudes” Twitter profile, with the promise of videos for retweets. The account, in keeping with the general sense of lockdown, has no nudity on it.
Click to enlargeAs you can guess, these bots are persistent. Simply lingering in a server can result in a procession of invites to your account.
Click to enlargeWe were sent to a variety of locations during testing, including some which could have been about films and television or pornography, or both, but in most cases, it was hard to say, as almost every place we landed locks content down.
This makes sense for the people running these channels: If everyone was open from the get-go, there’d be no desire from the people visiting to go spamming links in the dash to get some freebies.
Bots on paradeWe didn’t see a single place linked from any of these bots that mentioned free Discord Nitro—it’s abandoned entirely upon entry. Visitors probably have no reason to question otherwise, and so will go off to do their free promotional duties. Again, while it’s entirely possible bots out there are wiping out people’s communities, during testing all we saw in relation to the supposed Nitro spam bots was a method for channel promotion.
If you have server permissions, you should think carefully about which bots you allow into your server. There are no free games, but there is a whole lot of spam on the horizon if you're not paying attention.