A Russian company is 'hacking accountants' printers' around the world to publicise a UX training course

A bizarre – and legally shady – marketing scheme tries to make office workers into designers as part of the fight against AI - all through the use of printers.

Can a bot hacking printers worldwide encourage officer workers to become designers to fight the AI future? It sounds far-fetched, but that's what's happening right now as Russian online university Skillbox hits upon a novel way to publicise one of its new design courses.

Using the Shodan API that indexes hardware devices connected to the web, marketing agency Possible Group says that it has managed to make printers all over the world print out a warning message to humans from a bot, with over 600,000 printers "accessed" since March 11th (and counting).

While we're not lawyers, we know Possible is a part of advertising multinational WPP, so it's unlikely they'd risk legal calamity for the sake of one campaign (and we're above suggesting that as it's the Russian branch of Possible behind this, rules have simply been flouted with disregard). 

At the end of the day, these printers all belong to one port, and Shodan is nothing more than a port scanner. Port scanning in itself is not in violation of any computer fraud acts as no damage is ever done to devices through scanning. These printers, though foolishly left exposed online, cannot be damaged by Shodan users, and are simply delivering a piece of paper as normal (even when the message is as abnormal as the one below).

"By 2024, it's 94% likely I will replace millions of accountants, auditors and financial analysts, no matter how experienced or talented they may be," starts the warning message (or is it a helping hand?)

"Not all is lost. I will not be able to replace creative professions in the near future. Only 8% of graphic design work will be replaced by bots by 2024," continues the bot, before going on direct the confused white-collar human on the receiving end to a Skillbox UX design course created by Michael Janda, author of Burn Your Portfolio.

The bot must be taking pointers from another Russian, writer Isaac Asimov whose famous ‘First Law of Robotics’ stated "a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." While some robots want to save you from liquid-metal cyborgs, this one simply wants to make sure its target audience - financial professionals and other roles that involve old-fashioned paperwork - can keep paying the bills in near future.


Nightmare fuel

Dmitry Krutov, CEO of Skillbox, says: “The world is changing fast and we need to tell this to as many people as we can.

"We want to prevent mass unemployment that will arise as a result of advancing technology. Everyone deserves a job that will realise their full potential and help them achieve success. That’s why it is important now to start thinking about the job you will have in the next five to ten years.”

And of course he wants you to sign up to his course, in a neat spin on the growing paranoia in society that AI will take our jobs.

You can read the bot's full message on the specially created Beware of Bots website, or call into the nearest office on your block to see if they've been hacked by the campaign yet.

Meanwhile see if your job is safe by checking Will Robots Take My Job? - but if you're a creative, you know you're already safe. No promises on the liquid metal cyborgs, though.

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