Hacktivist collective Anonymous has declared war on the Islamic State. Again. It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing online war between the two groups.
The goal is one thing and one thing only: to bring an end to what is possibly the worst terror group to have ever existed. No terror group is more palatable but ISIS has taken the war to the world and magnified their scope of activities like no other group.
Governments across the world have not yet been able to come up with a strategy to curtail the 31,000-member group. Enter Anonymous, who have vowed to teach ISIS a lesson using entirely non-violent but potentially crippling means.
The Declaration of War
The declaration came in response to the ghastly attacks in Paris that have left over a hundred people dead.
In a video posted soon after the attacks, a person representing Anonymous warns members of ISIS that it intends to hunt them down. It said that it would “unite humanity” in the operation.
“Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down,” is the message. “You should know that we will find you and we will not let you go.”
“We will launch the biggest operation ever against you. Yes, you vermins who are killing poor innocent people. Expect massive cyber attacks. War is declared. Get prepared.”
— Anonymous (@GroupAnon) November 15, 2015
“The French people are stronger than you and will come out of this atrocity even stronger.”
This war has been brewing in various corners of the internet for well over a year now. There have been repeated calls to action against ISIS since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January and even before that, when Jihadi John beheaded US journalist James Foley in 2014. Sample this:
Here’s the one from after the Charlie Hebdo attack:
But the big question is: can a bunch of hackers really take on the world’s deadliest jihadi group?
Anonymous has already been at work against ISIS for months. They’ve successful hacked, unmasked, and reported thousands of Twitter accounts that were run by or associated with ISIS members. The group has also infiltrated jihadi forums, hacked the odd web server, identified IP addresses and even emptied a few jihadi bank accounts.
Ghost Security (GhostSec), an organisation loosely affiliated with Anonymous, has been the one spearheading the tasks mentioned above.
Their self-declared mission is targeting “Islamic extremist content” from “websites, blogs, videos, and social media accounts,” using both “official channels” and “digital weapons.”
There’s also, already, a clear metric of success.
The hacktivists’ work this year resulted in the dismantling of some 149 IS-linked websites, according to a recent report in Foreign Policy, by overwhelming their servers with fake traffic from multiple sources (called a Distributed Denial of Service or DDOS attack).
Anonymous also flagged roughly 1,01,000 Twitter accounts and 5,900 propaganda videos. Twitter itself also routinely purges ISIS-associated accounts and tweets.
It’s obvious that a war on a terror organisation that is deeply entrenched offline cannot only be fought online; what they have demonstrated, though, is that they can do a pretty good job of bloodying their noses.
The big question is: can a bunch of hackers really take on the world’s deadliest jihadi group?
A digital attack isn’t going to liberate Syria and Iraq – but it can certainly help staunch the flow of jihadi activity. As communication gets increasingly more sophisticated – and encrypted – being able to decode and expose these information networks are a critical tool in the fight against the Islamic State.
And it’s something Anonymous – arguably the most skilled collective of hacker-activists in the world – are uniquely placed to do. This July, for instance, it was revealed that the group had assisted in preventing terrorist attacks in New York and Tunisia.
Anonymous also announced earlier this week that they had traced a pro-ISIS hacking group, CyberCaliphate, that uses at least at least 10 Twitter handles to a single IP address in Kuwait.
With every Islamic State account that goes dark, hacktivists celebrate with a triumphant “Tango Down.”
The digital fight against ISIS
Most of the ISIS’ recruitment takes place on the web. A large number of recruits are from countries as varied as Tunisia, Syria, the US, France and the UK.
Twitter has also been an important tool for ISIS to disseminate propaganda in recent years.
Last year, jihadis advanced on Mosul under the hashtag #AllEyesOnISIS; they manipulated social media chatter to saturate a worldwide audience with August 19, 2014 video execution of Foley and the subsequent public murders of American journalist Steven Sotloff, American humanitarian Peter Kassig, and British humanitarian Alan Henning.
Assuming Anonymous sets itself even one task – that of crippling recruitment operations – it would be a hell of a blow. That’s because with only 31,000 members and a rising body count, ISIS’s scale of operations will naturally be curtailed without a steady stream of new recruits willing to die for the cause.
Bold – Earlier this year, Anonymous assisted in preventing terrorist attacks in New York and Tunisia
The ‘war’ can also take the form of putting an end to propaganda. Derailing ISIS’s narrative and blunting its appeal among disaffected and marginalised Sunni Muslims is the main goal.
A study by Brookings Institution fellow JM Berger and data scientist Jonathon Morgan found that in the last four months of 2014, at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters, potentially reaching an audience of millions.
They also found that ISIS-supporting accounts had an average of about 1,000 followers each and that ISIS supporters on Twitter were far more active than ordinary Twitter users.
Will this change anything?
Aside from the obvious schadenfreude of watching Islamic State get its virtual butt kicked, some experts are in favour of Anonymous’ attacks on Islamic State’s cyber-assets.
Foreign Policy’s Emerson Brooking wrote earlier this month that Anonymous seems much more capable than the government of battling extremism online, noting that the State Department’s “tiny Center for Strategic Counter-terrorism Communications” has under 22,000 followers on Twitter.
Getting behind the masks
Anonymous is approaching the war from many fronts. Another key one is through another arm of #OpISIS: @CtrlSec.
Their goal is simple: to identify and report as many ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts as they can. To be the mallet in the never-ending game of whack-a-mole.
On Twitter, the siege is coordinated by four accounts, the latter three of which are bots – @CtrlSec, @CtrlSec0, @CtrlSec1and @CtrlSec2.
A typical unmasking looks like this:
An interview with a CtrlSec leader revealed that the group has identified 11,660 accounts to date.
The account’s operator goes by the name of ‘Mikro’. The Atlantic recently managed to interview him face-to-face in an unnamed city in Europe.
Mikro told The Atlantic that CtrlSec is no longer affiliated with Anonymous, a non-hierarchical organisation that prohibits its members from soliciting financial support from outsiders. “We have a structure,” Mikro explained. “We have a leadership, we have roles, and we need money.”
In another interview, this time with Foreign Policy, he elaborated further.
“We believe that all of us combined can show the world that ISIS does not have as much power as it claims it does and show the world that if ordinary people can fight ISIS [successfully] then the governments of the world certainly can. ISIS is a plague on the internet and humanity.”
On that front at least, Anonymous, @CtrlSec and humanity at large are in complete agreement.
All Images and videos sourced from catchnews.com