The Paris Attack of 13/11 (2015) by ISIS would be an event which will change the face of earth. On the one hand, it has galvanized France and other nations including Russia which suffered an attack a few days back in the form of a bomb on a plane, into an all out war on ISIS on ground. At the same time it has galvanized the powerful group of Anonymous Hacker Group to take down the Cyber Assets of ISIS.
It looks a little strange that one group of mercenaries who have enemies all around them including the neighboring Muslim states of Syria and Iraq can threaten the whole world and challenge countries such as France, UK, USA and Russia all at one time. But the power of “Terrorism” is such that as an asymmetric warfare it has the power to challenge the conventional forces with greater fire power. The difference lies in the motivation to fight and the unconventional methods used to strike.
For these countries who fought two world wars as allies, this is the “Third World War” unfolding in the form of ISIS. It appears that they have a renewed resolve to fight ISIS after the Paris attack. But one has to wait and see how long this enthusiasm lasts. Will the allies go for the complete control of the ISIS controlled land like what Sri Lanka successfully did against LTTE or back off at some point of time for their own reasons, is difficult to foresee. But it can be expected that as the Allied forces succeed in pushing back the ISIS in the physical world, they will increasingly go underground, spread out and start attacking the world in a series of terrorist attacks.
Breaking the link to the command and control center over such distributed terrorists and starving them of money and ammunition would be an important requirement if these terrorists need to be neutralized. It is in this context that winning the Cyber war against ISIS is as important as winning the war on land.
It is therefore interesting for us to watch the Cyber War that is unfolding between the Anonymous Hacker Group and ISIS. The Hacker Group has issued a statement that they would hunt down and destroy the ISIS on Cyber Space. (Read article here). It is reported today that the Hacker group has already brought down over 5500 twitter handles in the last two days. But this should be only the starting point. What is important is whether the terror plans can be disclosed before execution and forced into failed or abandoned missions.
The Group has also released a guideline on how to proceed hacking into ISIS assets. (See the report here)
During the Post Paris attack investigations, it has been speculated that the terrorists might have used Sony Play Station 4 game console for in-game communication to plan and execute the attacks. It is given that execution of any major coordinated terror attack (which some have called the Wolf pack attack) requires extensive planning and therefore a good stealth communication channel that can be sustained over a period of time.
Some experts donot agree that PS4 was used for communication in this case. It does not actually matter if PS4 was used or not used in this attack for communication. But the possibility of the “Video Gaming” platform being used for communication cannot be ruled out. In future these communication channels need to be monitored by the intelligence agencies to get the scent of what is brewing in the terror camps. Apart from the Sony Play Station or X-Box type of gaming consoles, there are many online gaming sites where groups can be formed apparently for a gaming situation and messages exchanged. It would be a near impossible task for the intelligence agencies to monitor such communication on real-time.
However, it should be possible to develop necessary algorithms to monitor the pattern of group formation and communication in these game situations to flag any suspicious activities that can be taken up for monitoring on an exception basis. Probably the companies such as Sony and Microsoft themselves may develop such tools to monitor the misuse of their properties.
Presently Sony Play Station privacy statement does provide that it retains the right to monitor and record the communication between the users of Play Station Network. This indicates that they do have the necessary backdoors that can be activated for monitoring user’s activities.
Creating an automated system of analytics is a logical step ahead given the fact that there are over 110 million users of which 65 million are active at any point of time. This is a Big Data challenge that needs to be overcome and would be over come perhaps in the immediate future.
It is also considered possible that terrorists may super impose cryptographic techniques to hide their messages. But such techniques can hide the messages but not the suspicious pattern.
Breaking the communication network of ISIS is an important step in winning the Cyber War and whether the Anonymous Hackers can go beyond the taking down of twitter accounts into monitoring and revealing terror plans in advance to the law enforcement will determine to what extent the Hackers can help destroy ISIS as an organization that can survive beyond the physical annihilation that the Allies can inflict on ground.
Another significant part of the Cyber Warfare is to trace the monetary assets of ISIS on the cyber space and destroying them. It is worth watching if Anonymous Hackers can attack the financial assets of ISIS and starve them of their funds.
While the Allies are expected to fight the war both in the physical space and the cyber space, the Anonymous hackers will fight only on the Cyber Space. But their contribution to winning this war for the sake of humanity in general is very important and history will recognize this contribution if it succeeds.
Technology is known to create problems and it is time technology also finds solutions to benefit the mankind. Hactivists now have a point to prove. Let’s see whether they can walk the talk.