Anonymous vs. the ISIS Cyber Caliphate — War in the Middle East Goes Digital

The ISIS terrorist group is battling increased resistance in Syria and Iraq, facing coalition airstrikes and increased firefights on the ground.  The group is now facing pressure on a new battlefront: the Internet.

The Anonymous hacker collective is targeting suspected ISIS Twitter and Facebook feeds, which are quickly being shut down.  More than 800 accounts have been shut down, with Anonymous promising more interference in the group’s online efforts.

Despite Anonymous running interference, ISIS still has a bit of support in the digital world.  Anonymous is facing counterattacks from a group calling itself the Cyber Caliphate.  This new group vows “Cyber Jihad” against Anonymous and the West, saying it works on behalf – and in support of – ISIS.

The group recently targeted the wife of a U.S. Marine, hacking her Twitter account and issuing several threatening tweets:

“While your president and your husband are killing our brothers in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan we’re coming for you,” one published tweet said. 

Another message read: “We know everything about you, your husband and your children and we’re much closer than you can even imagine.  You’ll see no mercy infidel!”

Trying to intimidate families of US military personnel may be worth more headlines than anything else, according to military experts.  These types of threats can be seen as
“shocking at first,” but help create stronger solidarity, according to Lori Falkner Volkman, CEO of the military-focused Trajectory Communications firm.

The Cyber Caliphate also recently hijacked the Twitter feed of Newsweek (@Newsweek), publishing intimidating messages before the news group regained control of the account. 

Attempts to determine the identities of Cyber Caliphate members is difficult, but some wonder if the Lizard Squad – the annoying group responsible for bringing down Xbox Live and PlayStation Network on Christmas Day – are somehow involved. 

US and European political leaders suspect Junaid Hussain, a British man suspected to be in Syria, could be leading the Cyber Caliphate.  Hussain is 20-years-old and was briefly imprisoned for hacking Prime Minister Tony Blair before moving to Syria.

Junaid Hussain, a UK hacker who fled to Syria, is suspected of leading the Cyber Caliphate.
[Image Source: Twitter/@abuhussain102]
Hussain was allegedly involved when the Cyber Caliphate hacked the US Department of Defense’s Central Command (CENTCOM) Twitter feed and YouTube account.  He is reportedly responsible for recruiting hackers sympathetic to ISIS to assist in new cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity experts warn the Cyber Caliphate could want to grab attention by hacking social media accounts.  There’s also concern that the group to hack bank accounts – in an effort to transfer funds which can be used to support ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Hussain wrote online that he was going to steal money from the online accounts of the “rich and famous” in his former home, the UK.  Aside from cyberattacks ISIS is also leveraging the Internet to spread propaganda, threaten rivals, and recruit foreign fighters to pick up arms in Iraq and Syria. 

The Cyber Caliphate vows to continue to compromise vulnerable bank accounts and social media accounts to remind the world that it has methods to spread fear over the Internet.  Meanwhile, Anonymous looks to spoil these plans, creating a war amongst the black hat legions.