Watch your networks: the IS hackers are coming

Watch your networks: the IS hackers are coming
Analysis: Media organisations need to increase security measures to manage the growing cyber threat posed by IS supporters.
2 min read
03 June, 2015
The IS group uses social media as a form of psychological warfare [Getty]
A global network of IT experts are "randomly" attacking national and local news organisations online to spread Islamic State group propaganda, according to a US security company.

The hackers' "scattershot" approach makes it difficult to predict when the next attack will be, said FireEye.

It added that the supporters of the Islamic State group "are dispersed around the globe and meet easily online to plot their next cyber operation".

In April, IS took credit for disabling TV5Monde's production and transmission system. During the attack, IS posted its propaganda on the French-language satellite TV network's website and social media accounts. It also posted the identities of French soldiers reportedly involved in military operations against the group.

Similar attacks have taken place on smaller media organisations in the US, including the Albuquerque Journal and the digital TV station WBOC in Salisbury, Maryland reported FireEye.

FireEye said such attacks could have a "chilling impact on press freedoms if cyber threat groups believe hacking the news is a viable means to shut down their critics".

The US security company believes hackers are acting independently or in small groups, rather than following direct orders from IS group leaders in Syria and Iraq. For example, the core leadership took several hours to accept responsibility for the attack on TV5Monde, suggesting it was not aware of the incident from its outset.

The internet has become a crucial propaganda tool for the IS group, which has a ministry of information to project a powerful image across the globe.

It uses its well-organised social media campaign, which includes an international army of Twitter users, to promote its messages and slogans.

The group has successfully used social media as a form or psychological warfare and to recruit foreign fighters, especially westerners.

In January 2015, IS supporters hacked the Twitter and YouTube accounts of a regional US military command, writing: "I love you ISIS" across the page and posting Twitter messages including: "American soldiers, we are coming, watch your back."

The US Centcom attack was about publicising the group rather than accessing confidential information. However, it suggests the group could have the capacity to carry out more destructive attacks in the future.

The cyber expertise of IS appears to be growing daily, and could easily morph into something more damaging than a mere propaganda tool.

Governments, companies and media organisations across the world will be faced with increasing cyber security measures in preparation for further damaging attacks.