Late Wed. evening European time, Nov. 18, the U.K came under a sustained cyber attack by ISIS supporters. The attack continued throughout the day. It is believed that Britain along with other countries is being targeted due to a vow by Anonymous, a hacktivist group, to silence extremist propaganda and “erase ISIS off the Internet.”
Called OpParis, the Anonymous campaign has leaked details of at least five men suspected to be recruiters for the terrorist group and took down more than 5,500 Twitter accounts used for propaganda by ISIS. Anonymous started in 2003 and acts on idealistic values ranging from leaking documents governments and businesses would have preferred to remain undisclosed to shutting down child pornography sites. The group has avowed to avenge those killed and wounded in Paris.
“Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down,” a masked person said in one video claiming to represent the group. “We will launch the biggest operation ever against you. Expect massive cyberattacks. War is declared. Get prepared.” Since then, Anonymous has opened an official #OpParis Twitter account to share updates on its operation. Given the rapid response of its members, the hacking collective seems to have its sights set firmly on its goal.
Anonymous is also using Twitter to communicate with the public and said that Britain has been hit “by a digital blitzkrieg.” The attack was in the form of a distributed denial of service (DDOS) which floods Internet systems with so much traffic that they collapse. This weapon has been used by hackers for years, usually against single targets such as cities and businesses. A data visualization map of DDoS attacks around the globe on Nov. 18 showed the severity of the bombardment which hit the UK without mercy. Canada and Saudi Arabia were also targeted but to a lesser degree.
Experts currently believe that ISIS supporters targeted Britain in revenge for the Anonymous declaration of war. Catalin Cosoi, chief security strategist at Bitdefender, explained that since Internet traffic is usually routed from around the world, it is impossible to say with certainty that ISIS is behind the bombardment.
“This type of attack is usually comprised of computers or internet-connected mobile devices that are remotely controlled by hackers,” Cosoi said. “This large hacker-controlled network of devices is usually called a botnet and can be used either for sending spam, disseminating malware, or in this case, performing distributed denial of service attacks. We could assume that the incident is somehow related to recent UK media news regarding claims that Britain’s infrastructure could potentially be vulnerable to cyberattacks.”
Another theory is that this cyber attack is retaliation for the bombing campaigns against key ISIS targets in Syria and hundreds of raids on various safe houses being used to harbor the militants in France and Belgium. After the Nov. 13 Paris terrorist attacks the British government warned that ISIS militants was developing the ability to launch cyber attacks against the country’s infrastructure. It warned that power, water, and even transportation grids could be shut down, crippling the country.
Tom Kellerman of Trend Micro has been quoted as saying that cyber space has become more punitive. “We must disrupt the capacity of an adversary to maintain a footprint on hosts, and thus inhibit their ability to conduct secondary infections.” Will Pelgrin, former CEO and President of the Center for Internet Security, agrees: “Cyber crimes have become a worldwide epidemic with estimates of a half billion global cyber victims annually. We must treat cyber security threats and crimes as we would any widespread infectious disease – immediately, urgently and collectively. Cyber risks have reached catastrophic proportions and, therefore, require an unparalleled, public/private and transnational response.”