IS CyberCaliphate readying for deadly net attacks

IS CyberCaliphate readying for deadly net attacks

On March 22, 2016 just before 8 am local time in Brussels, two horrific explosions shredded its busy airport departure area. Shortly thereafter, another bomb ripped through a subway station in the city marking the deadliest assault on European heartland since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris four months ago. At least 30 people were killed in the Brussels attacks.

Shortly thereafter, the IS claimed responsibility for the attacks, in their growing, global strategy against the influence of the Western nations. Their message, claiming responsibility for the attacks was clear, “We are promising the crusader nations which have aligned themselves against the IS that dark days are coming.” Since January 2015, they have organised a consistently brutal series of attacks targeting civilians and carried out by a network of terrorists and sympathisers linked to or inspired by IS.

The terror group organised and directed an assault across Paris that killed more than 100 people. The attacks on Brussels appear to be a continuing outgrowth of the Paris attacks. All in all, IS has been responsible for more than 35 physical, land domain attacks around the world. But IS has not been confined solely to the land domain. While their efforts have not and yet been observed as attacks in the domains of space and sea, their battles have already incurred casualties in two domains—land and air.

In October 2015, it downed a Russian passenger jet killing 224 people, extending their conflict into the air domain. By building relationships with jihadist groups that can carry out military operations throughout West Asia and North Africa, they have expanded their reach and have declared provinces in Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghan-istan and Pakistan. Who will be next?

War is much like a fire where there are four critical elements. In a fire, the elements are a fuel source, oxygen, and a spark, as well as a critical fourth control element, the environment that fosters (or limits) the expansion of the flame. In war, there are also four critical elements, comparable to that of a fire, namely, material, manpower, and leadership, as well as the fostering or limiting environment (the domains of land, sea, air, space and cyber). In the terrorism game, bomb building explosive materials, as well as computer systems are some of the “war materiel” providing fuel for the fire.

Manpower, much like oxygen with fire, sustains the combustion. In the terrorism game, without manpower, sustaining the ideas and the enthusiasm of the ideology, the efforts would soon die out. After all, with each new bomber willing to destroy themselves in the name of jihad, another must be found and trained or you will quickly run out of suicide bombers to throw at your enemies. The spark of course that ignites the fire is the leadership, especially those skilled in the art of planning, communicating, bomb-making and the use of information and computers.

The environment of course is the area that limits whether the fire burns out of control or is contained in a particular region. While a fire can quickly start in an enclosed container, the enclosed container provides the environment that shapes and ultimately stops the fire before it becomes a conflagration. Place the same combination in a forest, where material is readily available with plenty of the oxygen and in an uncontained environment where the winds whip the fire across natural and man-made breaks, and soon the fire spreads completely out of control.

Cyber methodologies

Those unfamiliar with the spread of terrorism and their adaptation of cyber methodologies might ask, “What role are the terrorists playing in cyber?” The answer is they are playing a significant role with the advent of the CyberCaliphate. They are using cyber to recruit new members and provide the fuel that fires their jihad. They have also begun to expand their use of cyber beyond recruitment, and into the realm of cyber attacks against their enemies, through the CyberCaliphate.

The CyberCaliphate is cyber jihad where the medium, platform and social connections promote cross-media horizontal dissemination and global amplification of the digital media. Knowledge is power.

The IS understands the role of the fifth domain—cyber—and is attempting to control the domain to their advantage. It is using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Vine, as well as other social media platforms to “transform the medium itself into a weapon” where speed of use and portability transforms their terrorist message into a ubiquitous presence, continuously reminding their enemies of their potential to strike.

The group has hacked more than 54,000 Twitter accounts initially in retaliation for a drone strike that killed their British member in November 2015. CyberCaliphate seized control of accounts and used them to spread the IS propaganda.

The group published details of most of these 54,000 Twitter accounts, including passwords and mobile phone numbers, as well as other personal information. Their victims include members of the United States CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. Right before their victim’s eyes, the group seized their accounts and posted IS propaganda in their Twitter accounts while the victims could only watch in horror.

This cyber army also announced plans in early January 2016 to hack Google. Fortunately, Caliphate Cyber Army (CCA) has so far not been able to do that. Claiming victory against Google by hacking their site, the CCA posted evidence of their success. Unfortunately for them, the website http://addgoogleonline.com, which was registered in the name of Gandani K in India, was not a Google site, so Google remained unscathed.

However small the CCA’s victories appear, the United States government has taken notice. On February 29, 2016, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter declared a cyber war against the IS acknowledging that the US Cyber Command has begun facing off on the virtual battlefield against the jihadi cyber terrorist.

Carter stated, “we’re trying to both physically and virtually isolate IS, limit their ability to conduct command-and-control, limit their ability to communicate with each other, limit their ability to conduct operations locally and tactically.” How effective this operation will be remains to be seen.

(Iyengar is a distinguished Ryder Professor and Director, School of Computing and Information Sciences, Miami; Miller has been with US Air Force for over two decades and is Coordinator, Discovery Lab, Florida International University)

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