After calling for revenge on the jihadists behind the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, hacktivist group Anonymous claimed they are behind a number of recent strikes against websites and social media accounts used by the Islamic State (IS) to recruit new members and spread propaganda.
"IS, we will hunt you, take down your sites, accounts, emails and expose you," the hacktivist group said in a statement. "You will be treated like a virus, and we are the cure. We own the Internet."
Shortly following the attacks on the Paris-based magazine, the Australian wing of Anonymous released a video depicting a person in the hacktivist group’s trademark Guy Fawkes mask saying to, “Expect a massive reaction from us.”
The spokesperson added, “We will be crippling all terrorist outlet websites, and terminating all terrorist social media accounts. We will dump all personal information on every terrorist that we come across. We will not sleep until you are brought to your knees."
Making good on its pledge, Anonymous recently published a list of over 800 Twitter accounts, in addition to websites and emails used by IS that Anonymous claims to have “exposed and destroyed.”
Counter Current News reported Anonymous has destroyed months of recruiting work for IS.
The attack on IS by the Anonymous hackers comes just days after IS released a video of Jordanian pilot Mu’adh Al Kasasibah – who’d been shot down and captured by IS during coalition airstrikes — being burned alive while trapped inside a small metal cage.
Homeland Security Today reported IS jihadi supporters took to social media to praise the barbaric execution of the “apostate” Jordanian pilot and urged even more ferocious executions of infidels and apostates.
IS is notorious for its online presence and mastery of social media platforms as a mechanism for spreading propaganda and attracting followers. With accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, SoundCloud and Skype for interviews and fundraising, IS’ use of social media attests to the power of online tools in the hands of jihadists.
Homeland Security Today recently reported, however, that jihadists’ use of online tools, websites and social media to spread propaganda and recruit followers is not a new phenomenon. Jihadi organizations have shown a remarkable ability to keep abreast of emerging technologies over the years.
With the reliance of terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and IS on social media, Anonymous may be dealing IS a significant blow by targeting jihadist social media sites.
Anonymous says there is “more to come.”
Countering jihadist propaganda
Although Anonymous is a controversial group, the hackers have raised awareness of the importance of countering jihadist propaganda.
Homeland Security Today earlier raised the question of what responsibility US Internet Service Providers and social media providers should have in removing and prohibiting jihadist social media accounts.
“IS’ beheading of American journalists and British aid workers and its dissemination of the videos of these acts have revived a debate that has been ongoing for the past decade,” Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), told Homeland Security Today. “The debate centers on whether terrorist groups should be prevented from using these services, which are their main means for recruitment and fundraising and their major channel of outreach to the world—or to take no action and let them continue to use them, because as some government officials claim, the intelligence value of this flow of information is too great to remove.”
As the US continues to grapple with this difficult dilemma, social media continues to be a powerful tool in the hands of jihadists. In addition to recruiting followers and disseminating propaganda — like the grisly beheading videos of American journalists and British aid workers — IS has repeatedly usedsocial media to call for lone wolf terrorist attacks.
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said the threat of lone wolf jihadists is “huge and getting worse.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FBI and Pentagon have issued multiple alerts based on the dangerous rhetoric put forth by IS through media services and social media platforms threatening attacks on the homeland.
“The continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials, and the acts of violence targeted at government personnel and installations in Canada and elsewhere recently," DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson warned a week after the terrorist attacks in Canada. "Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of US government installations and our personnel."
Despite growing awareness of the use of social media to incite jihad and recruit followers, it remains to be seen whether the US will take the steps necessary to disrupt jihadi cyber efforts.
“Hacking is part of the larger cyber security threats challenging Western capitals,” stated a 2013 MEMRI report on cyber jihad. “This debate over how to counter this threat should, but does not currently include the issue of online jihad and terrorists’ use of the Internet.”