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Bronze shield of the US Treasury Department
Source: Songquan Deng via Alamy Stock Photo

The US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Jan. 30 named three individuals associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to its Sanctions List.

Mu’min Al-Mawji Mahmud Salim and Sarah Jamal Muhammad Al-Sayyid — Egyptian nationals — are together responsible for establishing the Electronic Horizons Foundation (EHF). The innocuously named platform provides cybersecurity guidance and training to help ISIS members evade law enforcement's prying eyes online.

In addition to founding EHF, as outlined in OFAC's official press release, Al-Mawji founded an ISIS-affiliated media outlet for creating and spreading propaganda. He also played the office IT guy to ISIS leadership and provided his expertise in the domain of cryptocurrencies by, for example, publishing a tutorial on EHF's website with instructions on how to use them to donate to the organization.

Al-Sayyid collaborated with Al-Mawji on EHF's cryptocurrency and logistical management efforts. She also recruited ISIS members to join EHF and solicited Web servers for hosting ISIS platforms.

OFAC also named and shamed a third ISIS collaborator, Faruk Guzel, from Turkey. He appears to have helped the organization with money transfers, receiving remittances from ISIS supporters and passing them on to members based in Syria.

How Sanctions Slow Terrorists Online

"Coupling cyber and physical has become more common in modern warfare," says Padraic O'Reilly, founder and chief innovation officer at CyberSaint. And though far away in second place behind its kinetic actions, ISIS has always been able to cause a certain degree of noise online.

"It is well known that they are not the most sophisticated group out there, but they have had some success at disruption," O'Reilly says. "ISIS generally hacks for propagandistic purposes. They have defaced websites, hacked Twitter, and had some success posting messages on French and Swedish media outlets."

Just as in the kinetic sphere, however, ISIS's online reach has slowed since its peak in the mid-2010s. OFAC, as with prior interventions from the US and other governments before it, will only serve to slow the group further.

"This will likely disrupt some of the current channels used by ISIS, but they will likely find new avenues, so this will be an ongoing process," O'Reilly says. "These tools are effective, but the landscape is always shifting."

About the Author(s)

Nate Nelson, Contributing Writer

Nate Nelson is a freelance writer based in New York City. Formerly a reporter at Threatpost, he contributes to a number of cybersecurity blogs and podcasts. He writes "Malicious Life" -- an award-winning Top 20 tech podcast on Apple and Spotify -- and hosts every other episode, featuring interviews with leading voices in security. He also co-hosts "The Industrial Security Podcast," the most popular show in its field.

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