Tech by VICE

Twitter's Pro-ISIS "Hackers" Are Just Good at Using Google

It looks like the threats made by some apparent pro-ISIS hackers over social media are overstated.

by Joseph Cox
Nov 25 2015, 1:30pm

Image: Shutterstock

Last week, the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne laid out plans for more capabilities for law enforcement and intelligence agencies in response to a "cyber threat" from ISIS.

But it looks like the threats made by some apparent pro-ISIS hackers over social media are overstated.

Recently, a group that calls itself the "Islamic Cyber Army" has been dumping the supposed personal details of government employees and other data on Twitter. However the majority of the information appears to have been sourced from very simple Google searches.

Using the hashtag "#WorldUnderHacks," accounts associated with the Islamic Cyber Army (ICA) have posted Excel spreadsheets containing names and some personal details obtained from Italian institutions, as well as other files with contact information of French government personnel and officials from the US Department of Defense. SITE Intelligence Group, a US-based consultancy group, has described the Islamic Cyber Army as "pro-IS hackers."

One of the ICA's targets was, the website for an Italian educational institute. Several screenshots posted to Twitter purported to show reams of names and personal details of people affiliated with the organization. But a quick dig around Google reveals these screenshots were likely taken from a publicly-available Excel file.

SITE Intelligence Group noted that the details of French government personnel were also publicly available. And Motherboard found that the US Department of Defense spreadsheet tweeted by the pro-ISIS hackers was just a Google search away.

Others on Twitter have noticed this trend, jokingly responding with the hashtag "#WorldUnderGoogleSearch."

This isn't the first time pro-ISIS hackers have exaggerated their own hacking capabilities. Junaid Hussain, who moved to Syria to join the terrorist organization, published the names and personal information of 100 US military members. He claimed he had obtained these by hacking Pentagon servers, but it seemed more likely that he also just Googled for them. Hussain did reportedly have some technical skills, however, with the Wall Street Journal reporting he had developed spyware for ISIS. Hussain was killed in a drone strike in August.

Large-scale cyberattacks that have been linked to pro-ISIS hackers have also turned out to be misattributed. According to researchers from cybersecurity firm FireEye, a hack on the French television channel TV5Monde that was widely reported as the work of a pro-ISIS outfit was actually that of a group of Russian hackers.

In all, it's worth treating the claims of "ISIS hackers" on social media with a heavy dose of scepticism. More often than not the material they publish is easy to obtain, and is just an attempt at easy PR for the terrorist organization, rather than demonstrating any serious hacking capability.