Three Against One: Fighting a Cyber War Against ISIS

Andrew Orr In the News

An unlikely trio fighting against ISIS has developed some new offensive cyber tactics, including creating fake versions of ISIS apps and tricking its members into downloading them. These groups fighting in cyber territory include the US government, the hacktivist group Anonymous and various companies in Silicon Valley.

So far the militant group has roughly six apps on Android designed for sharing information and recruiting new members, like an Arabic learning app for kids and a news app. The children’s app teaches kids the alphabet but does so in a way that indoctrinates the children, like displaying the word Sarokh (rocket) for S and Bundiqiya (rifle) for B.

A warning from ISIS, found by Rita Katz, director and co-founder of the Site Intelligence Group, says:

“Warning: dubious sources published a fake version of the Amaq Agency Android app, aimed at breaching security and spying.”

Anonymous Gets Revenge

After the Paris attacks in November, Anonymous has promised to carry out “many cyber attacks” against ISIS as revenge, saying,

“We will not rest…we will strike back…we will keep hacking their websites, shutting down their Twitter accounts, and stealing their Bitcoins.”

In a video message, Anonymous gave a speech telling ISIS to “expect us.” One way the group is bringing the fight to ISIS is by taking down militant websites on the Dark Web, a notorious area of the internet known for whistleblowing, Bitcoin and political discussion forums, drug markets, extremist groups and even child pornography.

America’s First Public Cyber War

By now most people are at least somewhat familiar with the Stuxnet malware allegedly created by the Pentagon and Israel to attack Iran, but this is the first time the Pentagon has spoken openly about its attacks on ISIS. Cyber Command is Spearheading the attack on ISIS. In 2009 the Pentagon created Cyber Command taking personnel from various branches of the American military. There are 4900 employees of Cyber Command, and the US wants to grow it into a 6200-person Cyber Mission Force.

Cyber Command Training for Cyber War

Personnel of the 624th Operations Center, located at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland

Ashton Carter, US Secretary of Defense, said, “We are thinking more strategically about shifting our response-planning from fighting a war to also providing decision makers with options to deter and forestall a conflict before it begins.”

The Silicon Valley Warriors

Companies like Apple, Facebook, and Twitter, have all stepped up to stop ISIS from using their services. Back in April, the US government officially declared cyber war on the Islamic State, which makes it the first public assemblage of Cyber Command.

  • Facebook created a team dedicated to policing terrorist materials and promoting counter-speech
  • Twitter has suspended more than 125,000 accounts associated with terrorism
  • Google stated it would display counter-terrorism advertisements on searches for extremist materials
  • Telegram, an encrypted messaging app that some terrorists have been known to use, has shut down ISIS propaganda channels

As the first cyber war on earth moves forward against ISIS, one can only wonder: What will combat in “cyberspace” look like when both sides develop and deploy offensive tactics?