The media is reporting that, in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, Anonymous is directing some of its attention toward ISIS. The criminal activist network of hackers battled with ISIS after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January of this year.
Challenges in Monitoring and Intercepting Terrorist Communications
Not all digital communication takes place over applications like Twitter and Facebook. Newer trendier communication technologies with limited data retention policies provide terrorists and cyber criminals with additional avenues for covert communication. Applications such as WhatsApp, Cyber Dust, and Snapchat permit anonymous user interaction, creation of unmanaged and unmonitored discussion groups, and limited or no storage of messages sent and received.
Complicating the challenges of monitoring and intercepting terrorist communications are the new interactive gaming technologies that can be used to provide unmanaged and unmonitored Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communication channels. Many experts have been concerned that cyber predators could exploit this technology against our children. Concern grew when Sony’s gaming service was hacked to steal user data including credit card information. Now we are learning that terrorists may have used the same technology to discuss plans of attack.
Anonymous’ Unconventional – and Likely Illegal Approaches
What’s controversial about Anonymous’ decision to engage ISIS is that while its cyber hackers will certainly use unconventional ways to deter, interrupt and compromise ISIS’ communications, they will likely also use illegal means to infiltrate these various cyber communication channels and intercept critical information that could aid in identifying and preventing attacks similar to those in Paris, and around the world.
A Parallel Effort – But By No Means a Partnership
Our national security agencies, combined with the continued focus and commitment of law enforcement and military continue to provide sound resolve in the fight against terror. There is no group more committed to our national security than the men and woman who stand on the front lines every day, whether on the battlefield, conducting intelligence activities, or patrolling our streets. But because we value our freedom perhaps even more than we value our personal safety, our government’s abilities are appropriately limited by legal constraints and the rights of our citizens to privacy.
It’s extremely unlikely that law enforcement agencies will share information with the group directly, as this raises legal, ethical and conflict of interest issues. But if Anonymous succeeds in shutting down some terrorist communications lines, some terrorist cells may revert to dependence on traditional communications channels – and re-expose themselves to traditional law enforcement monitoring. It’s also very unlikely that we will hear law enforcement leaders publicly acknowledge and affirm Anonymous’ efforts in this arena.