ISIS is ramping up efforts to mount a massive cyber attack

Pierluigi Paganini September 14, 2014

Extremists groups of ISIS and Al Qaeda are ramping up efforts to launch major cyber attacks on Western Critical Infrastructure to set up digital Caliphate.

In time I’m writing the ISIS has released a new video purporting to show the beheading of British hostage David Haines, the group has started again to flood the social media with imaged of propaganda after a few days of silence.

On the Internet many experts are proposing their analysis on the way ISIS manages social media platforms trying to explain which are the differences with Al-Qaeda under the technological profile.

ISIS shows a great mastery of the social media platforms as explained by the colleague Matteo Flora in his analysis “ISIS Social Media Analysis of twitter news outlets following @Th3j35t3r Tango-Downs“, speaking with experts at the Web Intelligence firm Recorded Future we agreed that ISIS is more efficient both because they appear to have processes to keep their “feeds” alive even when accounts are shut down, and they also have developed their own tools, like the Android app “Dawn of Glad Tidings” to spread their message more efficiently.

isis social-media-twitter-app-dawn

“What’s interesting,””it was organic. It wasn’t created by al Qaeda, but by their supporters. They had demonstrated so much expertise at building a social network that it attracted the attention of actual al Qaeda members.” said Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant who’s worked closely with the FBI.

But the extremist groups in the Middle East are much more than social media experts, many militants are probably high profile hackers and there is the concrete risk that they will launch massive cyber attacks against the Western Alliance.

Many security experts sustain that the ISIS is preparing a cyber offensive on critical infrastructure located in the West, electric grid, dams, airports, hospitals, banks, government networks, are now more than ever strategic objectives.

On September 11th, Fox News reported that leaders of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Al Qaeda are stepping up efforts to seek a digital caliphate, speculating that one of the jihadist leaders, Hussain Al Britani, had allegedly hacked the Gmail account of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Jihadists in the Middle East are ramping up efforts to mount a massive cyber attack on the U.S., with leaders from both Islamic State and Al Qaeda – including a hacker who once broke into former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Gmail account – recruiting web savvy radicals, has learned.”

ISIS militants have clear targets in mind, their purpose is to disrupt the US financial and infrastructure system, the group is publicly announcing its plans of a caliphate in the Internet. The “cyber caliphate,” will make a large use of encryption software and custom made tools to mount a catastrophic hacking campaign.

“The jihadists are investing a lot in encryption technologies and they have developed their own software to protect their communications and when western agencies work out how to crack them they adapt quickly,” said Steve Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a Washington-DC-based non-profit that tracks jihadist Internet activity. “They are forward-thinking and are experimenting with hacking. In the future, the jihadist cyber army’s activities will become a daily reality.”

Cyberspace is the fifth domain of warfare, cyber warfare is assuming a crucial importance also for extremists as confirmed Stalinski:

“In prior years, jihadis would commonly pose for pictures while wearing their traditional garb and surrounded by weapons such as assault rifles and grenades,” Stalinski said. “Today, you will see jihadists in similar poses, but with a laptop, smartphone, or tablet added to their arsenal.”

Within the Intelligence community are circulating the names of the alleged leaders of the ISIS cyber army, one of them is British hacker Abu Hussain Al Britani, also known as Junaid Hussein, which was identified as the leader of the planned attacks. Al Britani went to Syria to join ISIS militia and he is considered by the Intelligence one of the most active recruiters of new members for the ISIS.

Intelligence officials in the US and the UK also suspect that Junaid Hussein is the man that beheaded the American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

The situation is very dangerous, on one side there is the ISIS that is increasing its popularity and its trying to extend its operation also in the cyberspace, on the other side, there is Al Qaeda that wants to reaffirm its power in the Middle East and has recently announced that it was expanding in the Indian Subcontinent.

We cannot underestimate both forces and we have to consider the possibility of a major cyber attack against our critical infrastructure, we cannot let the guard down.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – ISIS, cybercrime)

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