Unlikely Heroes: Hackers to the Rescue?

March 2nd, 2015

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By CHHS Extern Andrew Weissenberg

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hedbo attacks in Paris, an unlikely “hero” has emerged. When fighting ISIS, most figured it would be by air and land. However, the global hacker collective, Anonymous, has recently staged a hacking campaign against ISIS.

Anonymous became an online force around 2003, but did not truly start its “hacktivism” until 2008. In response to the tragic attacks at Charlie Hebdo, a group of hackers claiming affiliation with Anonymous took down Ansar-Alhaqq, a French jihadist website.  This website translates as “defenders of the truth”, and features articles such as “44 Ways to Support Jihad.” Although Anonymous has previously waged attacks on the U.S. government and the Church of Scientology, their recent actions have the potential to benefit all anti-ISIS governments. Anonymous is attempting to demolish ISIS’s vast social media recruitment operation by exposing and disabling hundreds of Twitter accounts, email addresses, and websites affiliated with the terrorist group.

Although their actions are noble, are they effective? Anonymous was successful in shutting down Ansar-Alhaqq, but unfortunately, the site was back up and running a few hours later. However, the hacking group claimed its cyber assault affected nearly 800 twitter accounts, 12 Facebook pages and more than 50 email addresses. According to a video posted by Anonymous, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with individuals from all races, countries, religions, and ethnicities fighting together against ISIS. Specifically, Anonymous released a warning to terrorists, stating, “We will hunt you, take down your sites, accounts, emails, and expose you. From now on, there [will be] no safe place for you online-you will be treated like a virus, and we are the cure. We own the internet.”

ISIS and its sympathizers are fighting back using cyber techniques of their own, which creates an uncharted, dangerous, and efficient volley of attacks. Recently, CyberCaliphate, a hacking group associated with ISIS, hacked the Twitter accounts of Newsweek and the U.S. Central Command, and the breaking news system of a Maryland television station. ISIS is even targeting military families via cyber attacks. On the Twitter account of Military Spouses of Strength, ISIS sympathizers posted a threatening form letter and commenced each threat with the name of one of the members of the group.  This recent attack has caused military families to reevaluate the type of information they allow on the web.

At this time it is hard to determine whether Anonymous will act consistently as cyber crusaders, or whether this was just one act of cyber vigilantism. Regardless, it appears the anti-ISIS governments across the world just received help from a very unexpected ally.

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