Duncan Bannatyne has been live-tweeting about a threat to his daughter which he received via email and twitter. The first message was posted on popular text-sharing site pastebin (favourite medium of lulzsec and anonymous), and read:
My name is Yuri Vasilyev and I’m looking for a Â£35,000 investment to stop us hurting your Hollie Bannatyne. We will bring hurt and pain into your life.
We are watching her. She is very attractive. Want photos?
Tweet using the hashtag #4money to confirm payment will be made.
Yuri Vasilyev (Hrodna)
All pastebin messages from “Yuri” have since been deleted. (URLs were: pastebin.com/tyXbfujL and pastebin.com/N3x50nzN). Another pastebin message read:
We are the men of Belarus.
We do not give up.
We will stand tall.
Give us Â£35,000.
Yuri Vasilyev (Hrodna)
Bannatyne responded a link to the account @YuriVasilyev_ on twitter with the now-deleted message:
which needless-to-say has caused a lot of interest! He had since increased the reward to Â£30,000 – no subsequent mention of arm-breaking, except in response to a few users who questioned whether he was serious.
Several twitter users have been googling the email address, but sadly Google is also returning results for a seemingly-unrelated “@mail.ru” address, rather than the “@imail.ru” address which was associated with the actual threat.
Bannatyne has since tweeted that the police are involved and that the IP address from the original email can be traced back to a cybercafe in Moscow. That’s about as far as the detective story goes at the moment, but we’ll no doubt see updates from Duncan and the twitter community as the story progresses.
Here’s hoping they find the real cuplrit and bring him to justice. What Duncan must be going through, having threats against his daughter, I cannot imagine.
However this story pans out, it does highlights the ease with which an innocent bystander can get caught up in internet-justice. I’d be surprised if the guy who happens to have an email address one-character different from the ‘real’ Yuri hasn’t received a good chunk of hate mail by now. If not worse.
The case also brings up an interesting question: How do you find someone’s identity online? The story of a cyber-criminal being hunted down over twitter is appealing, but how realistic is this scenario? Without the IP address, it’s very difficult to trust anything that was posted. Both the name and email address could be entirely fictitious. We’re reduced to scrutinising the text, hoping for some shibboleth to betray some crumb of information. For example “Hrodna” refers to a city in Belarus – which ties in with the claim made in the message. But is this just a red herring? And again, the message implies that it is a group of people rather than a lone individual. All this is peripherally interesting, but I would expect it’s going to require participation from imail, pastebin and twitter before anything firm can be said about Yuri’s identity or whereabouts.