Battling ISIS with cyber disruption and cyber ridicule
ISIS may be setting a record for the number of countries that they’re declaring war on, the number of innocents they’re almost gleefully beheading, the number of Internet hits they’re getting for their periodic snuff films, and the number of innocents murdered in cold blood by a gun wielding terrorists esposing a flow-of-blood version of Islam rejected by most Muslims. But now it’s facing a new kind of accelerating push back — and not from the military. First, there was the hacking group Anonymous which targetted Twitter accounts used by ISIS and recently left a mocking advertisement on one of its websites after a successful hack. Now it’s also facing other Interneters who are using ridiculous images to photoshop onto ISIS-related photos on the internet. The original photos are part of the attempt to entice young people to join; this is a campaign to blot out the faces of ISIS members on line and make them look ridiculous.
First, came Anonymous’ declared war on ISIS, which sparked an argument about whether it’s doing more harm than good:
Just days after the attacks in Paris, ISIS became the target of one of the world’s biggest vigilante anti-terrorism campaigns. In a widely distributed video, a figure wearing a Guy Fawkes mask publicly declared war on ISIS, promising that “Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down.” ISIS had already been a favored target for Anonymous groups, with #OpISIS kicking off in January, but the horrifying attacks drove thousands of new eyes to the cause. By Monday, Pastebin was filled with more campaigns, including #OpExposeIsis, #OpIceIsis and #OpPrayForParis, filling up the site’s Trending page for days afterwards.
But while the new activists have inspired a lot of activity, there are real questions about whether they’re helping the broader fight against ISIS or simply muddying the waters. Intelligence agencies and journalists often track the group’s online footprint, looking for insights into the group’s larger movements, but Anonymous’ stated goal is to drive the group out of online spaces entirely. Reconciling those two goals now seems harder than ever.
So far, online campaigns have focused on reporting Twitter accounts, websites, and IP addresses run by the group. Typically, the end result is deletion, either by Twitter, Telegram, or an angry webmaster. By that measure, the campaigns have been successful: the secure-messaging app Telegram reported blocking 78 ISIS-related channels this week, and a group called CntrlSec says it’s contributing to the suspension of more than 72,000 Twitter accounts since they began their campaign in January.
That’s good news if your goal is chase terrorists out of public spaces on the internet — but some groups have more sophisticated goals. A firm called Ghost Security Group has been working with an intelligence advisor named Michael S. Smith II in a long-standing effort to provide tips to US agencies, a partnership first reported by Foreign Policy. Smith collates Ghost Security’s tips and forwards them along to US Intelligence officials, where they can be used to inform the larger campaign against the terror group.
Notably, Ghost Security vigorously rejects the Anonymous label, despite often being associated with the group in press accounts. “We are in no way affiliated with Anonymous,” they told The Verge in a statement. Smith also distanced himself from the noisier campaigns, which he sees as disrupting more important intelligence work. “I don’t want to discourage anyone. I certainly want people to take interest in these issues,” he told The Verge. “The problem is when you take action.”
A group associated with Anonymous has hacked into an Isis supporting website, replacing it with a message to calm down alongside an advert for an online pharmacy.
Isis sites have been moving onto the dark web in an attempt not to be discovered. But a hacking group called Ghost Sec, which is related to Anonymous, took the site down and replaced it with a message telling readers that there was “Too Much ISIS”.
“Enhance your calm,” the full message read. “Too many people are into this ISIS-stuff. Please gaze upon this lovely ad so we can upgrade our infrastructure to give you ISIS content you all so desperately crave.”
The ad — which linked to an online pharmacy where payments can be made in bitcoin — would allow people to click through to by online prescription drugs, including Prozac and Viagra.
Before the site was taken down, it was understood to be one of a number of sites that were sharing and copying Isis propaganda so that it could avoid detection and being shut down. Many such unofficial sites have been created on the dark web, according to security blogger Scot Terban, though a large number of them appear to be unofficial and largely disorganised attempts.
And now you see more Interneters battling ISIS — this time replacing the faces of ISIS fighters with the photoshopped faces of ducks:
As the hacker collective Anonymous continues its cyber war against the Islamic State, other internet users have also joined the fight.
The hacker group has vowed to hunt down members of the terror group, while creative users of imageboard 4Chan have decided to fight back with humour using rubber ducks.
“How about castrating the image of IS by replacing the faces on ALL the propaganda photos with bath ducks?” a 4Chan user wrote.
Since then, many Photoshop masters have been busy putting the heads of rubber ducks onto images featuring Isil fighters.
An album called ‘creates the duck state’ has been viewed more than 100,000 times on photo-sharing site Imgur.
Here are just a few of the images now appearing on ISIS related photos. And, yes, it does reduce ISIS carefully cultivated image of a group that is to be feared and is glamorous (to those who find battle, violence and sadism glamorous):
Puzzled by this story about a campaign associating ISIS with rubber ducks. Assad's nickname is "Duck" https://t.co/D3QQ4cYUOL
— Brian Whitaker (@Brian_Whit) November 29, 2015
— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) November 27, 2015
— Enton (@p_typus) November 26, 2015
How to stop ISIS: take pictures of them and photoshop their heads into rubber ducks spread over internet we win pic.twitter.com/R9EQHRbfE1
— Captain J. Sexbang (@fxckingsexbang) November 24, 2015