Mikko Hyppönen warns the ISIS has a credible offensive cyber capability

Pierluigi Paganini October 26, 2015

Cyber Security Expert Mikko Hyppönen worries about cyber terrorists belonging to the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) have a credible offensive cyber capability

The popular Cyber security expert Mikko Hyppönen,  Chief Research Officer for F-Secure, said he worries about cyber extremists that could penetrate critical infrastructure and cause serious damages. The expert explained that the ISIS is probably the first group of terrorist that has hacking capabilities to manage a major attack against a government infrastructure, and the situation is getting worse because this group is gaining greater awareness of the effectiveness of an offensive launched by the cyberspace.

“The Islamic State is the first extremist group that has a credible offensive cyber capability,” said F-Secure Chief Research Officer Hyppönenspeaking last week at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJDLive conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. “Clearly, this situation isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse.”

A cyber attack could be arranged with a limited amount of resources, compared to a conventional terrorist attack, its preparation is difficult to trace, the preparation of a bomb may be intercepted by the intelligence while the acquisitions of exploit code for a cyber attack on a critical system it is hardly traceable.
The network offers anonymity, an ideal environment for terrorists seeking to recruit followers and to exchange information securely. The network is the vector that can bring war into our living room, and the ISIS is aware of this aspect.

Hypponen warns about cyber attacks that could be moved from everywhere, the hackers are moving from Europe to Syria, where they could launch attacks that shut down critical infrastructure in every place of the world.

Asked to describe a “horror story,” Hyppönen has no hesitation, the cyber terrorists can target SCADA systems widely adopted in Western infrastructure, let think of Siemens systems for example that control over 50 percent of the world’s factory equipment.

“Extremists might be willing to do an attack like that,” Hyppönen said.

A couple of weeks ago, the US authorities confirmed that hackers belonging to the Islamic State (ISIL) are trying to hack American electrical power companies.

The news was reported by law enforcement officials during a conference of American energy firms that were discussing Homeland Security. The ISIL has the cyber capabilities to run cyber attacks against US critical infrastructure and the US intelligence is aware of the risks.

In May 2015, Pro-ISIL Hackers belonging to the Cyber Caliphate hacking team threatened ‘Electronic War’ on US and Europe.

“ISIL is beginning to perpetrate cyberattacks,” explained Caitlin Durkovich, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security.

Investigators revealed to CNNMoney that Islamic State have run a series of cyber attacks that have been unsuccessful. They avoided to provide further information on the attacks neither cited evidence of specific incidents.

The experts described the attacks as not particularly sophisticated, anyway they represent a serious threat to the Homeland Security. ISIL hackers use to buy hacking tools in the black markets, there is no evidence that they are developing their own “cyber weapons.”

“Strong intent. Thankfully, low capability,” said John Riggi, a section chief at the FBI’s cyber division. “But the concern is that they’ll buy that capability.”

Mikko Hypponen admitted that the threat is very serious, this is an asymmetric war and the enemy can hit us in any moment, in any place, from everywhere. This summer a U.S. drone strike killed the jihadist hacker Junaid Hussain in Syria. The man was actively recruiting ISIS sympathizers and the US intelligence believes that the jihadist hacker is behind a number of cyber attacks, including the one that hit the Central Command websites and its Twitter accounts.

But Junaid Hussain was just one of the hackers of the CyberCaliphate, a the hacking group considered the ISIS cyber army.


Let me close with a personal consideration about another message launched by Mikko Hyppönen at the TrustyCon in 2014, when the expert illustrated the risk that Government-built malware and cyber weapons will run out of control.

Unfortunately, the web is crowded of such kind of malware, imagine for a moment that a group of terrorist like the ISIS will develop the necessary capability to modify these codes and launch an attack against a government. There will be a series of problems to approach, these malware could cause serious damage, but most scaring aspect is the problem of attribution. The ISIS would be able to hit a Government by dropping the responsibility of the attack on groups of hackers from other states.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  terrorism, ISIS)

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