Anonymous Hackers Declare Cyber War Against ISIS

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, has spread into the internet. Hackers have let an online attack against supporters of the Islamic State. The hackers group Anonymous announced Monday that they had exposed or destroyed nearly 800 Twitter accounts, 12 Facebook pages, and 50 email addresses that were all suspected to be involved with the terrorist organization. The hackers group declared war using a video. We have the full video for your view.


Now joining us to talk about the declaration of war by Anonymous is Ola Bini. Ola works on privacy research and engineering for ThoughtWorks in Quito, Ecuador.

Thanks so much for joining us.


PERIES: So, Ola, let’s begin by explaining the declaration of war. Why did they, Anonymous, feel compelled to do this?

BINI: Well, first of all, this all started about a month ago exactly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, when operation ISIS started. And since then, anonymous have been on the rampage and trying to attack ISIS accounts. But I suspect that this is a confluence of the fact that they managed to take down this many accounts at the same time. So now is the time to declare war, so to speak. Anonymous have traditionally put up one of these videos when they really want to get a lot of people involved in one of these efforts. So this is as much a recruitment effort for Anonymous as it is an actual warning to ISIS.

PERIES: So, Ola, it’s been less than 24 hours since this video was released. Has there been any response by ISIS?

BINI: As far as I’ve seen, no. This came out early in the morning, and the news reports are trickling din over the day. But most of them have been reporting exactly the same information back.

PERIES: And the Charlie Hebdo attack was the impetus for this video. Why were hackers so affected by that particular attack?

BINI: That particular attack is seen by a lot of hackers and freedom activists as an attack against freedom of speech. And freedom of speech is really central to what hackers believe in. And not only hackers, but computer people in general have a tendency to feel very strongly about freedom of speech.

Now, Anonymous feels like freedom of speech on the internets is their domain, so that’s what they’re working on.

PERIES: Right. And, Ola, so this is a real bullet in the heart of ISIS, because this is the vehicle. It’s not only the sort of boots on the ground and fighting on the ground that ISIS carries out, but it’s really been a media war through the executions that they have been carrying out and using the internet, obviously, for spreading the word, and also for recruiting through these videos.

Now, how effective do you think this strategy is? And how long will it be able to be sustained before ISIS, who’s equally smart on the internet, is able to circumvent these hackers?

BINI: I think this is a great shock tactic. It’s a way of getting something done really quickly and getting a lot of attention. But as you say, long-term, this can be much, much more problematic to actually keep up with. And we’ve seen that Twitter has been shutting down ISIS accounts for basically as long as ISIS have existed. So they keep coming back with new accounts.

Of course, it’s not possible to say exactly how Anonymous have gone about taking down all of these accounts, but it’s likely to be a combination of abuse reporting, a combination of hacking bad passwords, and so on.

Now, the bad passwords part is something that I suspect that ISIS will very quickly get better at. But, otherwise, they will just continue to create new accounts over and over again, because their media strategy in general doesn’t require them to keep the same account as long as they have some way of letting new potential recruits or media organizations know where they should go for information.

PERIES: Right. So, Ola, using the internet as a weapon of war is something that we suspect really highly sophisticated governments to be carrying out in terms of spying, in terms of figuring out where people are at. And I’m sure it’s much more sophisticated than I’m describing here. This strategy is quite clever. Who are the people behind developing this strategy?

BINI: So the strategy is clever, but it’s also pretty basic. These kind of tactics, they don’t require a huge amount of skill. They’re possible to do with the kind of people that there are thousands of that call themselves Anonymous.

Now, it’s impossible to say exactly who the responsible parties are behind this specific attack, but Anonymous has claimed that they’re working together with a subgroup called Red Cult, and it’s likely that this group is a small group of people that are coordinating attacks and taking credit for completely separate attacks that are happening in conjunction [incompr.] people are doing on their own.

I don’t want to compare these kind of attacks against accounts on social networks to the kinds of state government attacks that we’ve seen over the last few years, including Stuxnet, including Flame and Duqu, and, for that matter, potentially the attack against Sony that was claimed it to be done by North Korea. I feel like this attack so far is at a pretty basic level compared to those attacks.

But if these kind of recruitment efforts that I talked about for Anonymous are successful, we can expect that maybe a few of the more talented hackers that have the potential to break in deeper into ISIS systems will join the fight. Maybe they’re already doing it. Maybe we will see a dump of data from the internal ISIS system sooner or later.

PERIES: So that appears to be something else in common, that both are using this war on the internet for recruitment.

BINI: Absolutely. And it’s interesting to look at the history of both Anonymous and ISIS. They have been very, very good PR and marketing, and they’re using social networks in a very sophisticated way. If you go back and look at the first Anonymous video, you’ll see that the PR efforts is actually where Anonymous’ strongest side is. Every else is opportunistic, to a large degree.

PERIES: Right. Ola, I feel like I’ve really entered the 21st century now. I want to thank you for joining us and lighting us with how it is all happening.

BINI: Thank you. It was pleasure.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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