Concern regarding ISIS’ continued use of the Internet to raise funds, spy on US, Coalition Forces, spread propaganda and recruit has been heightened. Authorities in the US are well aware of the impact recruitment has had on the battlefield and on ISIS operations, in general. And, in terms of radicalization, the common denominator seen in almost all cases is exposure to jihadist activity online. Simply reading and viewing extremist propaganda can spur the individual on to enlistment.
Almost all of ISIS’ recruitment in the US is done online.
Not all of these recruits go overseas to fight, however. Some remain in the West, with instructions indicating they can show their allegiance by launching attacks anywhere and at any time. Should the jihadist not know where to begin, periodically names and addresses of specific people to attack have been posted online.
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Officials are right to be uneasy about ISIS’ massive recruitment campaign. At one point, ISIS had doubled its number of fighters. Recently, it was reported that there are now approximately 2,400 Russian nationals fighting with ISIS and around 3,000 Central Asian nationals fighting with the terrorist group. Add to that the 3,000-plus British terrorists who have advanced in the UK and are preparing to launch several deadly attacks. The Mirror reports that thousands of terror group suspects are being monitored by M15 and other anti-terror law enforcement. Due to the aggressive recruitment and rise of ISIS worldwide, the number of homegrown jihadists who are willing to carry out attacks in Britain has significantly risen in the past two years.
In the US, recruitment continues at a steady clip, and recently there has been particular concern about ISIS recruitment in the North Texas area. Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria have targeted this area as a recruitment ground and are in communication with potential recruits via social media. They have been urging disgruntled youths to launch terror attacks in the US. Thomas Class, special agent in charge of the FBI Dallas office, commented that fighting “homegrown violent terrorists” keeps him “up at night.” He also noted that across the country, other cities are facing similar threats.
Ryan Young, Assistant Special Agent in charge of intelligence cautions that, “individuals in Syria are directing them to conduct their own attacks.” They are advised to use knives or guns if they lack access to bombs. Young also pointed out that users who use private messaging apps can communicate with ISIS representatives privately on encrypted networks that prevent law enforcement from intercepting messages.
FBI Director James Comey, while acknowledging ISIS’ recruitment in the US is a bigger threat than ever, at the same time admits the FBI has no way of stopping ISIS from recruiting Americans through social media. Similarly, Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, has said that they, “spend a lot of time tracking people that can’t be found.”
There have been numerous online ISIS-related cases, but here are a few recent incidents:
- Last week, a teen was taken into custody over an ISIS-inspired plot against Pope Francis.
- Nationally syndicated radio show host, Jim Sharpe made the cover of ISIS Weekly. Sharpe explained that he, “interviewed WauchulaGhost from #GhostSec (Ghost Security) on America Continues about how his group works to shut down websites that are related to ISIS – and how their friends and colleagues at #CtrlSec [Controlling Section] do the same to ISIS-related social media accounts. Well, now it would appear that some super-swell terrorist dudes took notice! As as the good guy hackers at #GhostSec would say, ‘LULZ!’”
- Regarding that interview and GhostSec’s part in wreaking havoc on ISIS’ online operations, an ISIS representative posted this communication on JustPasteIt: “Baqiya brothers and sisters. You may or may not have heard about this revealing interview but it should come as no surprise that there are spies and infiltrators trying to break into the ranks of Muslims supporting the Khilafah on social media.”
- WauchulaGhost also had something to say about this attempt to dox GhostSec members. While doxxing involves the exposure of unknown, personal information, these hackers exposed information that scores of users of social media already know–the Twitter usernames of GhostSec members. “In their tweet regarding Jim Sharpe’s Radio interview with me, they mentioned our ‘true‘ identities and revealed that we are…well…ghosts. We are very pleased that the Da’ish are acknowledging us. It’s just sad they have no hacking skills and cannot even dox someone correctly. But it appears both our cyber war and psychological war are working well. We will continue this fight until their online presence is no longer.”
- MEMRI reports: “Islamic State (ISIS) supporters are circulating a list of 1,400 Twitter accounts that they say are reporting their accounts to Twitter so that the latter will shut them down. The circulation of the list, according to the user who shared it, is aimed at allowing ISIS supporters to block the accounts on it, so that there is less of a chance that they will be reported to Twitter.” The list is being distributed clandestinely among jihadis and safety checks have been put in place to ensure it remains secret.
- On August 11, 2015, the Islamic State Hacker Division (ISHD) “released what it claimed was a large collection of names, emails and other sensitive information belonging to U.S. military and government personnel. Earlier this year, in March, the same group had ‘doxxed’ 100 U.S. military personnel.”
- Pro-ISIS hackers have targeted the US military several times for the purpose of stealing data and then using that data to dox individuals.
- These same hackers have taken control of social media accounts, stolen credit card information from US citizens and individuals in other “infidel” countries, hacked Western celebrities’ cell phones, exploited vulnerabilities in a WordPress plugin and threatened members of various militaries.
- On August 23, 2015, ISIS-affiliated Al-Battar Media group released a video entitled, “A Message to the Lone Wolves” via Al-Battar Media’s Twitter account. The video leaked personal data of soldiers, officials, and civilians in the West and called on “lone wolves” to kill ‘Crusaders.’ It also features several of these individuals with a satellite view of their IP addresses’ geolocation which are marked ‘Wanted: Dead.’ The video ends with this statement: “Go ahead oh lone lions and kill those crusaders and those who support them, and especially the soldiers and military officers, these are their addresses so don’t let them get away.”
- A US family managed to save their son from joining ISIS, but he might now be going to prison instead.
- A Florida man was accused of a bomb plot at a 9/11 memorial event.
- Turned in by his mother, a 21-year-old pleads guilty to ISIS-related charges.
- Minneapolis struggles to stem the tide of terror recruitment.
- A Northern Virginia teen received an 11 year sentence for aiding ISIS.
The US government has admitted to being outpaced online by ISIS. Security experts have noted that the largest, most successful movement to counter ISIS online is comprised of civilians. Anonymous hacktivists and Ghost Security, a group of counterterrorism ethical hackers have aptly disrupted many of ISIS’ attempts to raise funds, launch attacks in the US and abroad and recruit. Additionally, social media users who report terrorist accounts, websites and videos have also had significant impact on slowing ISIS’ online operations.
GhostSec Co-Operations Director, DigitaShadow, delivers this warning: “The Islamic State has a strong interest in the recruitment of Westerners in order to strengthen their foothold in American society and it is imperative that the government and ourselves continue to counter their agenda in the digital space. If we fail to step up and counter their ambitions, attacks will intensify domestically and abroad.”