War of the hacktivists

Opinion by John Walker

As terrorist sympathisers hack non-military sites, and oppenents hack back, we are all now potential targets says John Walker.

It was just one month ago when Liz Snell told CNN that she wouldn't allow the ISIS-related hack against the US Military's Central Command Twitter account to deter her fight to help military spouses in distress. Yet on Tuesday this week Ms Snell's Twitter account was hacked by group calling themselves CyberCaliphate who would seem to be ISIS sympathisers, following up with posting threats against a half dozen or so members of the sites Twitter community - This site now being taken down for an indefinite period to assure the security of its membership.

Whilst this may only be considered a Social Networking site by some, given its objective of serving the needs of its members to promote and support the mental well-being of spouses whose partners are US military personnel deployed into the theatre of combat, this attack is a very cruel blow to those worried dependents left behind in the US – an act which could be considered as a cyber-insurgency attack against those non-combatant homeland based families, friends, and relatives with the subliminal act to undermine their security, confidence and morale.

This recent attack however may also be considered as an indirect offshoot of collateral damage out of the ongoing cyber-battle between ISIS and its sympathisers, against hacking groups such as Anonymous who have claimed credit for hacks against around 800 Twitter accounts, 12 Facebook pages and more than 50 email addresses which are related to ISIS and sympathisers.

It would seem we are again seeing the potential of the prospect of a tit-for-tat cyber-war in progress targeting, anyone, and anything that happens to be a suggested target by association. In fact here in the UK, back in November 2014, the Nottinghamshire Police website was also hacked by a pro-ISIS group calling itself AnonGhost, impacting the police site with having its main page overlaid with an image and some misspelt words ‘Khilafah will Transform the World', while music including Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells was playing in the background.

Neira Jones of the IAAF – (International Association for Alternative Finance Ltd) told SCMagazineUK.com: "In this hyper-connected, always-on world, we have become increasingly dependent on technology, either by choice or by necessity, in both our personal and professional lives. It is undeniable that this brings a tremendous amount of opportunities. Unfortunately, as with any technological advancement, we are faced with the double-edged sword of progress which also brings with it a tremendous amount of risk. I believe the key is not in abandoning the technology, but realising what the inherent risks are and behaving safely. We increasingly share more and more of ourselves digitally, and this will not stop. As individuals, let's be cognisant of the value of the information we share and protect it accordingly, so, for example, rather than closing down a twitter account because it has been hacked, regain control of it and thwart criminals by deploying two-factor authentication. Let's face it, hacking has become inevitable, so let's behave as sensibly in the digital world as we would in the physical one...

When asked for his opinion, Paul Oliver of Optimize Direct commented to SCMagazineUK.com: "There has been a significant rise on the Internet of hacking anything that has security exposures - for no apparent reason. The best advice anyone can now give is, if you use any form of Social Media, or other Internet facing application, make sure they are secure."

With the ever entwined relationships we, as a society, have formed with Social Media, the internet, and its derivatives, the prospect of both direct and indirect collateral damage out of opportunistic hacking, cyber-squabbles, and full on campaigns cyber-war should be now anticipated to increase, and in some circumstances bring what may be considered to be radicalised opinion into both our businesses, and our homes. This is an imposition which, no matter how we leverage web facing technology and services, and no matter who we are, must dictate that security is now a mandatory fact of life – as by inference, we are all prospective targets.

Contributed by John Walker, visiting professor at Nottingham Trent University.


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