Although ISIS has not officially acknowledged or laid claim to a hacktivist group, there are several acting on the terrorist organization's behalf. New groups are emerging at an accelerate rate, others are joining forces, they're expanding their list of targets, but thankfully their capabilities are currently unsophisticated, according to a new report by Flashpoint.
The groups are low on homegrown hacking talent and have little success recruiting highly skilled attackers to the cause. The most skilled hackers known to be connected to these groups:
- Jumaid Hussain (a.k.a. Abu Hussain al-Brittani, a.k.a. "TriCk"), British citizen and previously a member of TeaMp0isoN. Served time in British prison for hacking Tony Blair. Upon release, fled the United Kingdom to fight with ISIS. Became leader of Cyber Caliphate Army, the first pro-ISIS hacking squad. Killed by an American drone strike in Raqqa in August 2015.
- Ardit Ferizi (a.k.a. "Th3Dir3ctorY"), Kosovo citizen. Believed to be the leader of the Kosova Hacker’s Security (KHS) hacking group, which is not a pro-ISIS group. Ferizi allegedly hacked an unnamed victim organization, stole personal data -- including physical location -- of approximately 1,350 U.S. government and military personnel, then passed it to Hussain. Hussain then published it on Twitter, with a message encouraging attacks on the individuals (and branding the data dump for "Islamic State Hacking Division," not Cyber Caliphate Army). Ferizi was arrested in October and is the first person to face charges of cyber terrorism in the U.S. courts. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison.
- Siful Haque Sujan, British-educated Bangladeshi citizen, who replaced Hussain as the leader of Cyber Caliphate after his death. Sujan was also killed by a subsequent American drone strike in Raqqa in December 2015.
One place that new recruits are both found and trained is the Gaza Hacker web forum, which is full of educational resources, according to the Flashpoint report.
The pro-ISIS hacking groups tend to coordinate their attacks in private...but not very private. "We believe that while private communications between hackers takes place, they rely heavily on social media to generate support for their campaigns," the report states. Flashpoint analysts have seen "security-savvy jihadists, but not necessarily hackers, [emphasis added] using encrypted online platforms for communications, such as Surespot and Telegram."
Social media are used to declare intent of attacks, often with hashtags. Yet, some of the threats and claims may not be entirely genuine, according to analysts. For example:
- When Hussain published the personal and location data on US government and military officials that Ferizi had allegedly provided, he stated they came from sensitive databases, but Flashpoint believes the data came from unclassified systems and that no military systems were compromised.
- When the Islamic Cyber Army (users of the #AmericaUnderAttack hashtag) claimed they had "a list containing '300 FBI Agents emails hacked.' However, as purported FBI emails/passwords are a staple of low-level hacker dumps, Flashpoint analysts cross-checked the data and found that the list was a duplicate of a LulzSec leak from 2012." The Flashpoint report goes on to explain that the Islamic Cyber Army also defaced an Azerbaijani bank. "Lacking sophistication, ICA resorted to attacking any low-hanging fruit in its anti-American campaign, regardless of target relevance."
- Rabitat Al-Ansar used to be solely a propaganda engine until it added hacking. A subgroup claimed to have obtained American credit card account information and told followers to use the information "for whatever Allah has made permissible." Yet, Flashpoint analysts' findings suggest that the data was not pilfered by Rabitat Al-Ansar hackers themselves, but rather, "may have been sourced from the so-called 'Scarfaze Hack Store.'"
Despite their current limitations, Flashpoint researchers state that pro-ISIS hackers' "willingness to adapt and evolve in order to be more effective and garner more support indicates that while these actors are still unsophisticated, their ability to learn, pivot, and reorganize represents a growing threat."