US Weighs Ramifications of Targeting ISIS Hackers


By Debbie Gregory.

The killing of two Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) hackers is raising new questions about whether the Pentagon is targeting the group’s tech-savvy members.

In August, a U.S. drone strike killed ISIS hacker Junaid Hussain, who was tied to a number of hacking incidents over the past few years. Hussain was believed to be the head of the so-called CyberCaliphate, one of several informal ISIS hacking groups, and was linked to the release of personal information on over 1,300 U.S. military and government employees.

Hussain was also known as a prominent online recruiter, encouraging western sympathizers to carry out “lone-wolf” attacks.

Then, in early December, another U.S. drone strike took out a lesser-known ISIS hacker, Siful Haque Sujan.

Army Col. Steve Warren described Sujan as a Bangladesh-born, British-educated computer systems engineer who worked on hacking efforts and anti-surveillance technology.

“Sujan was an external operations planner and a United Kingdom-educated computer systems engineer. Sujan supported ISIS hacking efforts, anti-surveillance technology and weapons development. Now that he is dead, ISIL has lost a key link between networks.”

Focusing on ISIS hackers could be one way to counteract the extremist group’s online recruitment.

But the U.S. could be on a slippery slope going after these “hackers,” who some describe as more digital pranksters than actual cyber threats, according to Robert Lee, a former cyber officer in the Air Force and co-founder of Dragos Security

“The fact that someone’s involved in hacking or cyber anything should never be the justification for the strike,” Lee said. “But if they’ve made the kill list, applying some sort of prioritization based on that [skill] absolutely could be a very good consideration.”

CyberCaliphate has vowed to take revenge for Hussain’s killing, posting a picture that features several ISIS fighters holding rocket launchers with the words “Revenge,” “Gazwa” and “Abu Hussein” superimposed over the top.

While experts agree that ISIS’s hacking skills remain rudimentary, the group’s digital vandalism has boosted the terrorist organization’s robust online propaganda and recruitment efforts.

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Military Connection: Military Command’s Social Media Accounts Hacked

Centcom hack

It is not uncommon for anyone with an email or social media account to have one or more of their accounts get “hacked.”  Usually, a hack involves some malicious person posting or sending private messages from the compromised account, in order to try to obtain sensitive personal information or access to accounts. This deceitful tactic is commonly referred to as “phishing.”

If you’re lucky, a hacked account is just a nuisance. Common remedies range from changing passwords to closing the account and re-friending or re-connecting with your contacts. This week, the U.S. military experienced a hack of two of their social media accounts, and the results were more than just an annoyance.

The U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) is the theater level command center for all military operations in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. This means that CENTCOM personnel have been responsible for coordinating and planning all combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. CENTCOM has been planning and ordering airstrikes against the Islamic State (also referred to ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq since August, and in Syria since September.

On Monday, January 12, 2015, social media accounts belonging to CENTCOM were hacked by a group that calls itself the Cyber Caliphate, which has claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. At approximately 12:30 Eastern time, a Twitter account belonging to CENTCOM began posting (tweeting) rogue comments. The account’s profile image was changed to display the name “CyberCaliphate” with an image that looked like an Islamic State militant, and the phrase “i love you isis [sic].” One tweet made from the hacked account said “AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS.”

A Youtube account belonging to CENTCOM was also hacked. Two Islamic State propaganda films were posted on the account before Youtube shut the account down.

Another tweet was accompanied by a photo of two females in uniform in an office with computers, one of whom was attempting to control what looks like a goat. The tweet attached to the photo said, “ISIS is already here, we are in your PCs, in each military base.”

While the hacked accounts and the threats that the hackers promised are disturbing, the public should not be too concerned at this point. No classified materials were compromised and no military networks were breached. The hack does not mean that military networks are in any danger, it just drives home what most of us already knew– social media sites aren’t always safe.

While the Islamic State can view the hack as a victory of sorts, their cyberattack has gained them nothing. CENTCOM’s Twitter and Youtube accounts were back up in a matter of hours.

An investigation is underway to attempt to locate where the hack originated from.

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Military Connection: Military Command’s Social Media Accounts Hacked: By Debbie Gregory