Anonymous takes war against tech-savvy IS online

Shadowy group that has targeted Israel in the past hacks Islamic State-related Twitter accounts in order to get them banned

This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was identified by French authorities as the presumed mastermind of the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. (Photo via AP)
This undated image made available in the Islamic State's English-language magazine Dabiq, shows Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was identified by French authorities as the presumed mastermind of the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. (Photo via AP)

After taking on Wall Street, credit card companies, countries from the US to Iran to Israel, white supremacist groups, and even subways (the BART system in San Francisco), hacker group Anonymous is putting all its efforts into cyber-bombing the Islamic State, redoubling its efforts since last Friday in a cyber-war that has been going on for nearly a year.

“They picked a fight with Anonymous when they attacked Paris, and now they should expect us,” an individual claiming to represent Anonymous told the Russia Today website. The group “will not sit by and watch these terror attacks unfold around the world.”

On Monday in response to the Paris attacks Friday, the hacker group announced #OpParis, in which it is targeting Twitter accounts it said are associated with IS; on Tuesday Anonymous posted over 5,000 such accounts, providing usernames and passwords for them.

The focus on Twitter, according to posters on a web chat board called OpParis,was meant to pressure the site to be more vigilant in shutting down accounts that IS uses to post messages showing off beheadings, the taking of villages, and other images designed either to impress or instill fear in the mostly Western users of the social network.

According to one user of the site who employed an alternate acronym for IS, “Anonymous are causing panic within ISIS and they’re retreating to the DarkWeb,” a series of underground websites that are accessible only with decryption tools like Tor. By Wednesday, many of the hacked accounts had been taken offline, either by their owners or Twitter.

In response to Anonymous’s threat to “Ice ISIS,” as one of its campaigns was called, the Islamist terror group said that Anonymous was made up of “idiots” whose hacking talents were limited to guessing the passwords of accounts on social media sites. “What they gonna hack…all they can do is hacking twitter accounts, emails etc.,” a Twitter account associated with IS said.

In messages to members (both on Twitter and YouTube), the group gave some basic rules to help them avoid getting hacked.

“Do not talk to people u don’t know on [chat app] telegram and block them if u have to cause there are many glitches in telegram and they can hack you by it,” wrote the Islamic Cyber Army, the IS unit that provides cyber-defense, said on chat app Telegram. “Don’t talk to people on twitter DM cause they can hack u too. Do not make your email same as your username on twitter this mistake cost many Ansar (helpers) their accounts and the kuffar (infidels) published their IP so be careful,” the message said.

The IS-Anonymous battle is not new; Anonymous declared war on IS over a year ago. In a YouTube video from June 2014, Anonymous said it was targeting supporters of IS – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar – because of the destruction and death the group was causing as it sought to take over Iraq.

“The events currently transpiring in Iraq have made us as a collective re-evaluate our priorities in regards to recent operations,” the video said. “The Iraqi people have gone through almost two weeks of sheer terror most of us will never know nor experience. We are held by a code of honor to protect those who are defenseless, both in the cyber world and the real world.”

IS hacked a Twitter account at the time as well, posting images of its assault on Baghdad in May and June 2014, said the video.

“We sincerely apologize to the Twitter followers who had to witness this without warning. This was an unfortunate, unprecedented takeover and steps have been taken to further secure this account from any future attempted hacks,” the video voiceover said.

Continuing its anti-IS theme, Anonymous said in its latest video announcing #OpParis that in order “to defend our values and our freedom, we’re tracking down members of the terrorist group responsible for these attacks, we will not give up, we will not forgive, and we’ll do all that is necessary to end their actions.”

IS hasn’t announced what it will do to Anonymous – if it can actually figure out who is associated with the group, which cyber experts in the West have so far failed to do – but it is not without cyber resources itself. According to a study conducted at the West Point Military Academy by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), an independent research group, IS runs a 24-hour a day help desk to provide its field agents with instructions on using modern technology in the field – how to upload videos, how to access the Internet when no network is present, how to encrypt messages on social media networks, and more.

However, one cyber-trick that IS is apparently not performing – despite numerous stories on the web in recent days – is the use of Sony Playstation 4 systems to pass messages. The messages are private, and because of the gaming nature of the platform, nicknames and code words could easily pass through the system.

According to Belgian federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon, the system may have been used to plan terror attacks. The comment, originally appearing in Forbes, was picked up by many websites in the US and Europe, and was apparently based on the fact that a PS4 system was found at an apartment in Brussels that had been used by Islamists.

The comment engendered a bit of a panic at Sony, which issued a statement saying that like “all modern connected devices [Playstation 4’s communication system] has the potential to be abused. However, we take our responsibilities to protect our users extremely seriously and we urge our users and partners to report activities that may be offensive, suspicious or illegal.”

In an update, Forbes backed off its earlier allegation. “It has not been confirmed, as originally written, that a console was found as a result of specific Belgian terror raids,” the site said. “Minister Jambon was speaking about tactics he knows ISIS to be using generally.”

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