You are Bugs: an advertising campaign disguised as a hacker attack

Security Awareness
24 April 2024

Too many still have fallen for it: from the hacker attack, to the risk of attack, to the wildest conspiracy theories.

The web went wild on March 25 in the most disparate explanations of an event involving two major Italian railway stations (Rome Termini and Milan Central) where the screen of the time boards suddenly went dark and then showed the gigantic inscription, “You are insects.”

Immediately images with the mysterious inscription began making the rounds on social media, accompanied by the most disparate comments and the most catastrophic theories. After all, just days after the terrorist attack in Moscow and since the incident occurred in crowded places, the incident lent itself to even apocalyptic interpretations.

Like that of those who saw in it a warning, precisely for an impending attack or a message that the world’s powerful were addressing to ordinary people: you are insects, therefore, subject to being, grossed out, eaten, crushed.

The operation was actually a very successful advertising campaign, wanted and organized by Netflix to launch the series “The 3-Body Problem,” available from March 21.

Of course the platform may have spent a lot of money to occupy such a strategic space, but without a doubt it has hit the jackpot. Accomplicated, as always, by social media and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, the news ran fast and in a very short time reached much of the population.

The phrase “You are insects” is a reference to the events that take place in the fifth episode of the series; the belligerent warning that the San-Ti aliens issue to the human species. Simulating a veritable digital invasion into our world, the Netflix Twitter profile also sees obsessive repetition of the phrase in the bio as well as episode commentary videos on the well-known streaming platform’s YouTube channel.

The series by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss (Game of Thrones) and Alexander Woo (True Blood) is based on the science fiction trilogy of the same name by Chinese author Liu Cixin.
The story is set in Cultural Revolution China and tells of an attempt to contact alien intelligences by sending signals into space, but these are picked up by the wrong planet, Trisolaris. Dominated by chaotic and unpredictable gravitational forces, Trisolaris is destined for self-destruction, and its inhabitants are therefore looking for a new planet to invade and occupy. Earth seems the best option.

And while in Italy it was train stations that were targeted, in the United States the Las Vegas Sphere was illuminated by an ominous message from space. While Netflix has certainly equipped itself with genius consultants for its advertising promotions there is to be said that those who have assisted in the operation have not had the same genius, especially here in Italy.

Almost everyone, in fact, fell into the trap, getting swept up in the whirlwind of alarmed messages chasing each other. An episode that showed how much a large proportion of Italians still do not know how to recognize a computer scam.

Many “experts” or self-styled “experts” also fell into the trap and fed the fake. The moral, then, is that, you can never be an expert enough and that, before you obsessively share news by spreading bad information you have to be aware of what you are doing.

A truly trained eye would have immediately sought confirmation and disrupted the flow by breaking a malevolent chain. This time it was a collective mistake fortunately

with no consequences other than the increased volume of publicity around Netflix’s new production, the very thing the platform had been banking on.

But since the net always offers surprises and novelties, and cybercrime is increasingly sharp and sophisticated, deception is always just around the corner, and to be truly trained to recognize it requires ongoing training and constant practice.
The motto, then, is always: never get distracted, never underestimate, and never let your guard down.


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