The Fight Against ISIS Moves to Cyberspace
By Debbie Gregory.
Could cyberattacks against the Islamic State be the way to fight the extremists? The Pentagon is considering increasing efforts to disable the extremist group’s computers, servers and cellphones to disrupt potential terrorist attacks.
Military hackers and coders at Cyber Command have developed malware that some officials say are capable of sabotaging the militants’ propaganda and recruitment capabilities.
But the FBI and intelligence officials have some concerns about closing off ISIS’s communications, warning that an effort to constrict internet, social media and cellphone access in Syria and Iraq might also shut down access to ISIS’s locations, leadership and intentions.
Another concern is the repercussions these actions might have on humanitarian aid organizations, opposition groups, and U.S.-backed. And because computer viruses don’t respect boundaries, there is the possibility that the malware could spread to computers outside the country.
Following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, CA, Pentagon officials are preparing to step up cyberoffensives in light of the evidence that the husband and wife shooters who killed 14 people on December 2nd had become self-radicalized via the internet.
For now, the White House is leaning toward more targeted cyberattacks, pinpointing specific phones, computers or other digital devices used by the militants.
Responsible for U.S. offensive operations in cyberspace, Cyber Command has targeted some computer networks and social media accounts since August 2014.
But some experts warn that a blackout could backfire, with ISIS militants using alternatives methods such as flash drives, satellite phones, or other devices or platforms.
After Twitter began shutting ISIS’s official accounts in 2014, they encouraged operatives and followers to use encrypted social apps and stronger privacy settings, making it more difficult to monitor their activities.
Intelligence officials say ISIS has become adept at changing computers, cellphones and messaging apps when one is compromised.
When its websites are shut down or recruiters are blocked, they often switch to other sites or accounts and the communication gets out.
The arrest of 19 year old Jalil Ibn Ameer Aziz of Harrisburg, PA, highlights the dilemma faced by federal authorities when investigating potential terrorism cases in the United States.
Aziz had at least 57 Twitter accounts, using them to post ISIS propaganda. Although Twitter repeatedly suspended Aziz’s accounts due to the violent content, he quickly set up others that allowed followers to re-establish contact.