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April 10, 2015

Creator of Anonymonkey considered suing UChicago Secrets competitor

Cyber attacks against the popular Facebook pages UChicago Crushes and Secrets and the app that manages submissions to the pages, AnonyMonkey, led to threats of a lawsuit, which have since been dropped due to lack of evidence, by the founder of AnonyMonkey, fourth-year Zihan Xu. Xu says the attacks have been committed by a competitor service to AnonyMonkey, Crush Ninja.

UChicago Crushes and UChicago Secrets have become extremely popular Facebook pages for students to submit anonymous crushes on a romantic interest or deep secrets, respectively. AnonyMonkey is a submission portal that is used to moderate posts on Facebook pages, including Crushes and Secrets.

UChicago Crushes and Secrets have been hit with numerous spam attacks, and the AnonyMonkey website has been subject to several Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in the past month. Xu provided The Maroon with emails showing that the DDoS attacks had occurred. A DDoS attack is when a bot is set up to try to access a website so many times in a row that it overwhelms the server hosting the website, causing it to crash.

As described in a Maroon article on Tuesday, Crushes and Secrets were sent thousands of spam posts early last month, making posting impossible for several days. Soon after, a post was made on Overheard alerting readers that UChicago Crushes and Secrets were not truly anonymous and promoting similar alternative services, UofC Crushes and Secrets.

“Within an hour [of the spam posts], we see this post on Overheard, and within an hour they [Zhang and Duehr] tried to defame us to promote their own copycat. So they can’t make an app like this within just like 20 minutes. It was a planned attack.”

According to Xu, the attacks have been perpetrated by Kevin Zhang (S.B. ’13) and Jim Duehr (A.B. ’14), who created a competitor service to AnonyMonkey, called CrushNinja early last month. In order to give their software a competitive advantage over AnonyMonkey, Zhang and Duehr have also created separate Facebook pages UofC Crushes, and UofC Secrets that utilize the CrushNinja app.

Xu has considered suing Zhang and Duehr. On AnonyMonkey’s moderator portal, Xu wrote, “If there are randos contacting you about CrushNinja, be alarmed. They graduated from my university a while ago. After they realized the success of AnonyMonkey, they made a copycat, spread rumors about us, attacked and slandered us to promote their own agenda.... I am filing a lawsuit against them. If you are contacted by any of them, please forward me the material.”

Xu cannot prove that Zhang was behind the DDoS attacks and Zhang denies this claim in an e-mail: “I’m sure one of the main reasons Zihan and Co. built AnonyMonkey in the first place was to stop the tide of spam that pages were getting from Google Forms (which is notoriously vulnerable to spam). Thus, it is arrogant and misguided to think that the only people who would want to start spamming them is me...It seems that the AnonyMonkey people believe that we need to attack them to promote our own product (which, I might add, is purely for fun and nonprofit). The claim that we defamed Zihan/Crushes/Secrets/AnonyMonkey is utterly ridiculous,” Zhang wrote.

After consultation with his lawyer, Xu has decided not to file a lawsuit. He said it would be ungentlemanly for him to pursue a lawsuit over what he calls a side project.

Additional reporting by Forrest Sill and Katherine Vega

Correction (4/10/2015 at 2:10 PM): The title of this article was changed to reflect that Xu is the creator of Anonymonkey, and not a moderator of UChicago Crushes. In addition, an earlier edition of this article described Xu as "threatening" lawsuit when he only considered it. Xu's reasons for dropping the lawsuit have also been edited to more accurately reflect his statement to The Maroon.

Zhang received a B.S., not B.A., from the University of Chicago.

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