Anonymous Hits Main ISIS Forum In Aggressive Hacking Campaign

The online fight against the Islamic State threatens to cut jihadist communication lines and drive the terror group's supporters to other networks

Nov 18, 2015 at 1:53 PM ET

Members of the hacking collective Anonymous appear to have made gains in cutting ISIS’ online communications and sent supporters of the terror group into a tizzy.

Hackers said they shut down a main ISIS forum, which the terror group and its adherents use to communicate. While the forum isn’t the only one that jihadists use, it allows ISIS to disseminate videos, post guides on how to plan attacks and distribute other information and propaganda.

Vocativ deep web analysts found that the forum was down throughout Tuesday, a stinging setback for the terror group but by no means a mortal blow.

“It’s a shock to their system,” said Rachel Bryson, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation who specializes in Islamic State messaging. “But it won’t impact the spread of jihadist propaganda in the long run.” Bryson added that even if Anonymous managed to cripple all ISIS forums online at once, the jihadist group would likely find a way to rebuild them.

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The Anonymous takedown, however, was enough to rile some ISIS sympathizers, who vowed revenge. “What will you hack? And what will you achieve?” fumed one supporter in a lengthy rant. “You are so stupid, they don’t know that they opened the gates to hell for themselves…we didn’t lie when we said that ISIS is owning the virtual world…the next day will prove”.

Anonymous also claimed on Tuesday to have taken actions that led to the suspension of 5,500 Twitter accounts affiliated with the terror group. Those actions were part of Anonymous’ #OpParis campaign, which it launched in response to attacks in Paris last week in which 129 people were killed.

ISIS supporters acknowledged that some accounts had been hit. “Looks like the ISIS supporters are disappearing from Twitter,” one of them tweeted. Others showed resolve in the face of the hacking campaign, insisting that it’s ultimately ineffective. “They can delete and accounts and hack them but they can’t change our truth and can’t hack our minds and hearts,” another ISIS sympathizer posted.

Translation: We will be back in Twitter’s yard and defend the Islamic State and support the truth and its people. Oh God, use us to raise the caliphate.

Analysts say the Anonymous attack could further drive ISIS and its sympathizers toward other platforms, some of which pose challenges for authorities tracking jihadists’ online activity. Thousands of Islamic State supporters already share propaganda, bomb-making instructions and other terror-inspired material on the cloud-based service Telegram, which also allows users to send encrypted messages. The group recently moved one of its propaganda websites to the dark net, making it accessible only through a special web browser.

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Vocativ deep web analysts found that ISIS has also used the social network Diaspora and the popular Russian social platform VKontakte to try to communicate with supporters, who are routinely kicked off of various social media platforms.

“We keep seeing them migrating across different platforms,” Bryson said. “I don’t think by shutting down a current means of communication will mean the Islamic State fails. It’s not key to defeating them.”