Anonymous Targets ISIS: Operation Paris

The cyber vigilante group has set their sights on a new target this week. Anonymous has developed quite a name for itself by interfering in everything from Scientology to the Ferguson protests. They have been such a force to reckon with that they are often considered the pioneers of hacktivism. Now, they have set their sights on a much larger, and dangerous, target: ISIS.

Anonymous Launches Operation Paris

Truly, Anonymous has come a long way from the trolling individuals that once roamed on 4Chan image and message boards. Their usual weapon of choice is Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. These attacks flood a website’s server with so many requests that the website is eventually overloaded to the point of being shut down.

Following the violent attacks in Paris, that left 130 people dead and injured 350 more, Anonymous issued a threat via video towards ISIS. The initial video in French, has since been removed from YouTube. But a second video, in English, is still online at the time of publishing.

In the video the words “Stop Terrorism,” “Stop Suffering,” “Stop Death,” and “Stop Violence” are displayed in succession followed by a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask making a statement. In it, the spokesman in a heavy French accent says,”To defend our values and our freedom we are tracking down members of the terrorist group responsible for these attacks. We will not give up, we will not forgive, and we’ll do all that is necessary to end their actions.”

Anonymous’ new target however, will require much more finesse than their previous operations. Simply launching a DDoS attack or hacking Twitter and Facebook accounts of such a prolific and dangerous group such as ISIS will not do much to slow the tide of the Islamic terrorist group.  Anonymous must have realized this as well because they are taking a different approach for this new undertaking dubbed Operation Paris or OpParis.

Noob Friendly

Those in Anonymous are asking fellow hacktivists to infiltrate ISIS websites and accounts to steal valuable information and leak them online.

In order to boost this new initiative Anonymous has even published several how to guides on hacking ISIS. The guides are aimed at directing efforts to accomplish the new initiative of unveiling members, leaking valuable intel, and also to recruit those who want to help but may lack the technical expertise to participate.

The initial guide, labeled The Noob Guide, introduces netizens to Linux, DDoS tools, password cracking tools, and Man in the Middle attacks. A second guide labeled The Reporter gives users a guide on how to find and report ISIS related Twitter accounts that commonly spread their propaganda. And a third guide named The Searcher gives users the ability to find ISIS pages and information

ISIS Responds

Anonymous must be making an impression on ISIS because their actions have not gone unnoticed.  Via an ISIS related account on the app Telegram, ISIS has promised a response. After telling ISIS supporters to change their Twitter image to that of a shoe print on the French flag the message also said in Arabic, “…there will be something coming and that we should stay tuned and watch out as [ISIS] declares themselves as the owners of the virtual world.”

However, this might indeed be a hollow threat. Many analysts agree that ISIS’s hacking skills may not be up to par. Apparently, they may need to read Anonymous’ how to guides as well to get some ideas.

Although those affiliated with ISIS talk a big game, the truth is that their hacking skills are lacking. There is no evidence, as of yet, that ISIS has the ability to do any serious damage via cyber warfare. Previous hacks and subsequent ‘leaks’ performed by ISIS have normally contained information already available. Ironically, some of that information came from real hacks done by Anonymous and Lulzsec.

That isn’t to say that they aren’t trying, or can’t develop serious hacking talent in the future. Alex Kassirer an ISIS hacking analysts said, “Basically, there’s a slew of hacking collectives who support ISIS, but thus far there’s not a group that’s officially hacking on their behalf.” So, at least for now it seems that Anonymous will have the upper hand online.

Ghost Security Group

Although the US government doesn’t promote or officially condone hacking- even against terrorism- a second group has also been taking the fight to ISIS online. Ghost Security Group started as a subgroup of Anonymous. However, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks several members decided to make a clean break and focus their efforts on anti-terrorism. Through Michael S. Smith II, a Congressional terrorism adviser, the group has been sending the government intel.

The information, some of it gleaned by posing as a potential recruit, or more technical means with questionable legality has proven useful. Even though credit for thwarting attacks is hard to verify, if accounts are true the group of 14 hackers could be responsible for saving dozens, if not scores, of lives. Ghost Security Group, led by someone known as “DigitaShadow,” has been loosely credited with the uncovering of at least one terrorist cell. A terror cell in Tunisia was apparently planning a follow on attack to the June beach resort killings that left 38 dead.  Another account given by CNN Money states:

According to Smith, the group also identified and traced two brothers in Saudi Arabia who filmed themselves executing someone to demonstrate their support for ISIS. The group was able to take control of the Twitter account that uploaded the execution video and find information about the mobile device, which allowed authorities to locate the killers.

Government agencies like the FBI refuse to publicly acknowledge that they are cooperating with cyber anti-terrorism vigilantes. But when asked if agencies at least appreciate the efforts made by groups like Anonymous and Ghost Security Group, US General Mike Hayden who is the former head of the NSA and CIA said, “Officially, no. But U.S. law and policy are so constraining, I am sure the folks currently in government take secret pleasure in it, as I do.”


Feature image courtesy of Timothy Krause via Flickr.

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