A relatively unreported cyber war has been taking place over the last two months. It is largely a one-way war conducted against ISIS – but not on the battlefields of Syria or Iraq, but in cyberspace by Anonymous hactivists. It’s main aim is to stifle the recruitment by ISIS of jihadists and vulnerable teenagers. It is a war that boasts a data-mining facility that includes over 25,000 pro-ISIS online accounts, with more than 15,000 of these accounts reportedly deactivated. Below are the details, links to lists of ISIS and pro-ISIS accounts that Anonymous have identified, and a stirring statement from the data-mining database’s designer.
A data-mining database – developed by ‘XRSone, using Twitter’s own API – is currently tracking around 25,000 Twitter accounts that are allegedly pro-ISIS and which supersede an earlier release of 9,200 Twitter accounts. Less than half of the 25,000 accounts – 10,408 to be exact – remain active.
In addition, hundreds of websites associated with ISIS have been targeted by hactivists and earlier this week Anonymous, as part of #OpIsis, claimed that 233 of these websites have been attacked and 85 destroyed.
Statement from XRSone:
“Today I am releasing a list of 25,000 Twitter usernames belonging to ISIS militants and supporters. I would like to ask each one of you to stop what you’re doing and take a few minutes to actually view some of these accounts. Every word, every image and video is designed to inspire hate. Every gender, race, religion, creed, and sexual orientation is mocked and demoralized. Looking through these accounts, you will see complete disregard for human life. There are no civil liberties or freedom, there is no justice. ISIS is waging a digital war. This war is not fought with bullets or won with air strikes. This war uses the corruption of ideals for ammunition and the fundamental rights every human being deserves to be afforded are its casualties. This list provides insight into what is essentially the largest social media marketing campaign ever launched. The target audience is individuals with an unstable ideology; the product is depravity. I simply do not care if the government would like these accounts for intelligence and I most certainly do not care about ISIS’ freedom of speech and expression. These accounts should be taken down and until they are I will continue to make the world aware that they exist.”
Latest list of ISIS accounts:
A. Basic lists (Quicker Load):
B. Searchable lists:
Direct action vs Censorship
There have been criticisms that the anti-ISIS campaign by hactivists equates to censorship and is the antithesis of what a free and open society is about; also, that the campaign is not sufficiently targeted, in the same way that the intelligence services act indiscriminately in their surveillance of entire populations.
Co-founder and CEO of CloudFlare, Matthew Prince, said his company would not be blocking its service to websites listed by GhostSec as ISIS sites, as it would mean submitting to “mob rule”. CloudFlare does not host the pro-ISIS websites that Anonymous has identified, but, according to Prince, protects them from cyber threats, including those from Anonymous. Prince is adamant that such cyber attacks are equivalent to censorship. He also points out that CloudFlare has not received any request from Government to remove any of the sites listed by GhostSec as ISIS sites. Prince, who continues to vehemently defend his position, points out that when in the past CloudFlare received Government requests to remove Anonymous sites, CloudFlare refused.
But there are cogent arguments that censorship is sometimes not only needed, but is essential. For example, in the past Anonymous have taken down the websites of dictatorships or governments which have undertaken, say, massacres or war crimes. Many would argue that ISIS have acted beyond all moral considerations and are unquestionably barbaric. And, consequently, it is right to take action against them in the same way that it is right to campaign against, say, paedophile websites or websites that have Nazi or far-right content.
Intelligence agencies have also reportedly criticised the online campaigns against ISIS, as they believe that in taking down these websites and social media accounts Anonymous shuts down a key source of intelligence-gathering. However, Anonymous have pointed out that the sites they list do not include any military information, but are propaganda sites used to recruit jihadists or vulnerable teenagers to the ISIS cause. Moreover, that in keeping such sites live, the intelligence services are acting against the welfare of ISIS victims and others at risk.
Accuracy of the lists
At first glance many of the websites listed by Anons may appear not to have any obvious affiliation with jihadist groups, but Anonymous claims that the websites and accounts they list as ISIS or pro-ISIS have been identified after a sustained period of monitoring – checking and double-checking – over several months. For example, when traced back to related social media, links from a website are easily shown to connect directly to supporters of ISIS. The site dr-algzouli.com, which is hosted by Web Hosting UK, is linked to a Twitter profile of the same name that expresses support for a caliphate under ISIS rule. When approached about this, WHUK explained how it is very hard to monitor what content appears on the hundreds of thousands of sites it hosts. Frank Tighe, the CTO of WHUK’s parent company, Hyperslice, said that pro-ISIS content breaches WHUK’s terms of service and that, consequently, the websites hosted by WHUK that are listed by GhostSec have been taken down.
Previously, Anonymous campaigns have tended to be one-offs, or would last for a few days. But this campaign is very different – it is sustained and ongoing. And so the war continues – a war that is of a new reality that affects us all – and as pro-ISIS sites and accounts disappear, new ones will take their place and, in turn, the technology used to identify them will become better calibrated, better attuned…
To see a video by GhostSec on this anti-ISIS campaign, click here.
Here is the methodology Anons recommend to report possible pro-ISIS accounts.
See also ISIS escapees describe systematic rape.