Members of loose-knit hacktivist collective Anonymous have declared “war” on ISIS, in what Anonymous claims is its “biggest operation ever.”
But not everyone is thrilled about this.
There are growing concerns that, while well-intentioned, Anonymous’ attempts to battle the militant Jihadist group are doing more harm than good.
“Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down.”
After the Paris terror attacks on Friday — that left more than 120 dead and hundreds injured — Anonymous publicly declared its intention to take the fight to ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
A YouTube video aimed at the group featuring a man in Anonymous’ signature Guy Fawkes mask announced that Anonymous “from all over the world will hunt you down.”
He warned ISIS that “the biggest operation ever” is coming: “Expect massive cyber attacks. War is declared. Get prepared. The French people are stronger than you and will come out of this atrocity even stronger.”
This isn’t the first time Anonymous has taken on ISIS. As early as February 2015, Anonymous-affiliated activists were targeting the organisation, attempting to disrupt its social media presence.
But this renewed effort, in the aftermath of Paris, has attracted unprecedented media attention.
Anonymous is reportedly wrongly accusing innocent people
One of Anonymous activists’ “victories” this week has been the release of thousands of Twitter accounts and personal details of people it claims are affiliated with ISIS. The hacktivists have claimed responsibility for the deletion of more than 5,000 Twitter accounts.
But The Independent reported on Wednesday that these efforts have backfired: Some innocent people are apparently being falsely accused of being associated with ISIS.
Anonymous may be harming anti-ISIS efforts
Some people are expressing concerns that Anonymous’ approach risks damaging intelligence gathering by Western intelligence services.
A hacking organisation GhostSecGroup has claimed responsibility for preventing real-world terrorist attacks in the past (although this hasn’t been verified). Its leader, “DigitaShadow,” told Mic News that Anonymous tactics could damage sources of useful intelligence. “When it comes to terrorist attacks, one of the big worries is that you could take down forums and cost someone their lives … Anonymous has a habit of shooting in every direction and asking questions later.”
Security market specialist Ken Westin told CNBC that Anonymous’ efforts could have the adverse affect of forcing ISIS to improve its security. “This may actually force ISIS to be a little more security savvy,” he said. “This may drive them to increase their capabilities when it comes to encrypting communication and securing their sites. It could have a negative impact.”
ISIS-affiliated internet users have already begun circulating guidance to supporters on how to avoid being hacked.
The war has so far been ineffectual
A Motherboard article published Wednesday points out that efforts by Anonymous activists to fight ISIS have been relatively ineffectual to date. “Anonymous’ only achievement, it appears, is keeping the number of Twitter accounts spreading propaganda ‘mostly flat,'” terrorism expert J. M. Berger told the site.
In short, Anonymous has managed to prevent ISIS from growing significantly on social media this year — but that’s about it.
The flip side: Disrupting propaganda
It’s pretty clear that Anonymous is never going to destroy ISIS. But one way the militant Jihadist group has differentiated itself from previous terrorist organisations is its mastery of social media. Many of its members are “digital natives,” and know exactly how to get their message out online.
If Anonymous is able to significantly disrupt these propaganda channels, without harming official intelligence gathering, it could arguably help to disrupt recruitment and online radicalisation efforts. It wouldn’t be the death knell, by any means — but it would be arguably somewhat effective.
The only way to answer whether Anonymous has been effective is to answer how important is online propaganda to ISIS.
— Gabriella Coleman (@BiellaColeman) November 18, 2015
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