Geopolitics

Spectre of ISIS Cyber Jihad Pandemic
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Issue Vol. 31.1 Jan-Mar 2016 | Date : 29 May , 2016

The cyber domain is becoming a key part of offensive operations for any group, be it a government, criminal organisation or terrorist group. The cyber domain provides the group with a low-cost means of harassing their enemies and publicising their cause. It has also proven to be attractive to ‘tech savvy’ youngsters. The Cyber Caliphate whose exact roots and origins are unclear but the devastating impact it is making is only matched by the brutality of ground operations of ISIS.

“The ISLAMIC State (ISIS) is planning to unleash an army of ‘tens of millions’ of extremist Muslim hackers on the West who will cause carnage worse than a Nuclear War.”1  —Computer Expert and US Presidential hopeful John McAfee

America is stuck in the Middle East for its lure of petro dollars…

ISIS-Inspired Wolverine

Australia, 23 September 2014: An 18-year-old ISIS sympathiser was shot dead after stabbing two counter-terrorism officers outside a Melbourne police station.

Canada, 22 October 2014: An Islamic convert killed a soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, stormed Canada’s Parliament and fired multiple times before being killed.

USA, 23 October 2014: A hatchet-wielding ISIS man charged at four police officers in Queens.

Australia, 15 December 2014: A lone gunman, identified with ISIS, Man Haron Monis, held hostage ten customers and eight employees of a café in Sydney. Two hostages and Monis were killed.

France, 07 January 2015: Two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, ISIS-motivated, forced into the offices of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. 17 people were killed and 22 injured.

Denmark, 15 February 2015: A Danish-born gunman, ISIS-inspired, went on a violent rampage in Copenhagen, killing two strangers and wounding five police officers.

Tunisia, 18 March 2015: ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a museum that killed 22 people, almost all European tourists.

The cyber domain provides the group with a low-cost means of harassing their enemies and publicising their cause…

Tunisia, 26 June 2015: One ISIS-inspired gunman attacked a resort, killing 38 people on a beachfront – most of them British tourists.

France, 13 November 2015: ISIS suicide bombers struck at three locations in Paris. The attackers killed 130 people and injured 368. Seven attackers were shot dead.

USA, 02 December 2015: An ISIS-inspired married couple killed 14 people in a shootout at San Bernardino, California.

ISIS Cybernetic Slingers

France, January 2015: The Associated Press’ Twitter stream, AFP photo department’s Twitter account, the BBC, Al Jazeera, the Financial Times and the Guardian were hacked by the Cyber Caliphate. ISIS posted their propaganda.

USA, January 2015: The Cyber Caliphate hacked into US CENTCOM Twitter and You Tube account, defacing them with pro-ISIS messages. US suspended operation of both these accounts.

USA, February 2015: ISIS hacked into Newsweek and Taylor Swift’s Twitter account, defacing both with pro-ISIS messages and sending threatening messages to President Obama.

USA, March 2015: ISIS Hacking Division published a list of photos, names, addresses and branch of US service personnel, claiming to be taken from US military data servers. Accompanying the message, “We have decided to leak 100 addresses so that our brothers in America can deal with you…Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe.”

America will never change the Middle East, but the Middle East will change America…

France, April 2015: An attack on TV5Monde, an international Francophone network, knocked the station’s 12 channels off the air for 18 hours on 08 April. ISIS’ Cyber Caliphate replaced broadcast with jihadist propaganda messages on the station’s website, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Looming ISIS Cybernetic Jihad Trends

USA, September 2016: Lifts in major corporate multi-storeyed buildings in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Detroit collapse, malfunction and become unserviceable for no apparent reason. Hundreds are killed, thousands injured with commercial activity coming to a halt. The ISIS claims responsibility.

UK, France and India, October 2016: Underground, metro rail and subway trains collide killing thousands and stranding millions of daily commuters and shoppers. Traffic lights malfunction during peak hours resulting in gridlock across major cities. The ISIS claims responsibility.

November 2016: PANAM, Air France, Lufthansa, Air India, Aeroflot, British Airways and Turkish Airlines passenger aircraft crash on take-off or landing at multiple locations around the globe for no apparent reason killing thousands of passengers. The ISIS claims responsibility.

The cyber domain is becoming a key part of offensive operations for any group, be it a government, criminal organisation or terrorist group…

Andorra, Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Hong Kong, the Isle of Man, Mauritius, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Panama, Switzerland, St. Kitts and Nevis, January 2017: Though unreported, billions of dollars are surreptitiously transferred to accounts controlled by ISIS affiliates through online cyber fraud. This sets off panic buttons in major world political, business, industrial, underworld, crime syndicates and corporate establishments. Major stock exchanges across the globe crash. ISIS suspect.

ISIS Seeding and Feeding

America is stuck in the Middle East for its lure of petro dollars. The more America tries to extricate, the more rooted it gets. America has become a country of the Middle East. America will never change the Middle East, but the Middle East will change America. Witness how Muslims block the street in New York at Madison Avenue every Friday afternoon during rush hour traffic to offer prayers and no American authority dare challenge this.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who once worked in a video store, had visions of an empire bigger than Ottoman, and thus founded ISIS/ISIL in 2002. Zarqawi made his name challenging the grandees of al-Qaeda: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Whereas al-Qaeda’s core leadership planned meticulous, top-down operations, Zarqawi strove instead to emulate the romantic, Crusader-conquering Nur al-Din Zengi, who drove Westerners from Syria. Zarqawi’s enthusiasm for medieval barbarity was matched by an equally fervent embrace of modern technology. Zarqawi knew that an accomplished cyber expert behind his laptop, is as intimidating to some of their distant enemies as the gunmen terrorising people on the ground. Zarqawi set about to raise “Lone Wolves” around the globe using cyber space.

US airstrikes killed Zarqawi in June 2006, but his renegade followers nevertheless went on to declare the Islamic State of Iraq, in October 2006, without consulting al-Qaeda leaders. By 2009, the movement Zarqawi had created was all but dead. A few embers of Zarqawi’s soul re-ignited at US prison Camp Bucca and the nucleus of the movement was reborn. Prison breaks, marauding, looting, rape, assassinations, beheadings, kidnapping for ransom, smuggling of rare artefacts dug from captured territories and such barbaric acts became ISIS staple. ISIS documented their beheadings, shootings and point-blank assassinations in a video called, “The Clanging of the Swords” and went online on Twitter and You Tube. The ISIS seized Mosul in May 2014, and then there was no looking back. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the current leader of ISIS.

The ISIS runs a 24-hour help desk to instruct its members in mastering encryption and to provide updates on technology…

Middle East Kaleidoscope

The ISIS is spreading like multi-headed Hydra. America is actively joined by Russia, Iran, Iraqi splinter groups, Assad of Syria, Syrian rebel groups, UK, France and Turkey among others to contain and stop ISIS march. There is interplay and mutations of the good, the bad and the ugly players in the kaleidoscope of the Middle East. The Gulf Cooperation Council countries are making appropriate noises on the sidelines of the raging conflict.

Many countries are keenly watching how the game gets played out and trying not to burn their fingers. As the game will play out, the way it is being shaped by Cyber Caliphate alongside ISIS ground territorial offensive, no country will remain insulated. Some countries will get subsumed, some consumed and others bruised in many shades in quagmire spread by Cyber Caliphate.

ISIS Cyber Caliphate

The cyber domain is becoming a key part of offensive operations for any group, be it a government, criminal organisation or terrorist group. The cyber domain provides the group with a low-cost means of harassing their enemies and publicising their cause. It has also proven to be attractive to ‘tech savvy’ youngsters. The Cyber Caliphate whose exact roots and origins are unclear but the devastating impact it is making is only matched by the brutality of ground operations of ISIS.

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declared the territory that it captured in Iraq and Syria to be an Islamic state or Caliphate. Junaid Hussain, a British ISIS fighter who was killed in a drone strike in Syria, is believed to have been a key player in the so-called Cyber Caliphate waging online war against the West. Since his death in August, his group appears to have re-merged under the name Islamic State Hackers.

The ISIS makes extensive use of Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram…

ISIS Exploitation of Cyber Knowledge Domain

The ISIS has shrewdly turned cyber jihad into a vital winning factor of terrorist operations. Cyberspace enables them to circumvent the barriers of various state institutions and security organisations and disseminate their message without interruption, faster and more easily than ever before.

The ISIS has adopted an operational security manual for its members. Salient instructions are:

  • Provide links to dozens of privacy and security applications and services including the Tor browser, the Tails operating system; Cryptocat, Wickr and Telegram encrypted chat tools; Hushmail and ProtonMail for email and RedPhone and Signal for encrypted phone communications.
  • Use strong passwords and avoid clicking on suspicious links, to prevent intelligence agencies and everyday hackers from breaching their systems.
  • It coaches to set up private Wi-Fi network or use apps like FireChat to share photos and text short distances without needing internet access.
  • Use of VPN online to encrypt data and prevent ISPs and spy agencies from reading their communication.
  • Use encrypted chat tools Telegram and Sicher.
  • Use false credentials to open Gmail account then use it with Tor or a virtual private network.
  • Android and iOS platforms are only secure when communications are routed through Tor.
  • Disable the GPS tagging feature on mobile phones to avoid leaking location data. Alternatively use the Mappr app to falsify location data and throw intelligence agencies off the trail.
  • Not to use Dropbox and Instagram because its parent company, Facebook, has a poor track record on privacy. It advises members to use encrypted phones like Cryptophone or BlackPhone instead.
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The ISIS runs a 24-hour help desk to instruct its members in mastering encryption and to provide updates on technology. But there is a difference between telling somebody how to do it and then doing it right. ISIS members, affiliates and “Lone Wolves” have erred in the past including Paris attackers. Law enforcement agencies then catch up with them.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen AK Chadha

former head of Signal Intelligence Directorate in Defence Intelligence Agency.

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