ISIS-Aligned ‘CyberCaliphate’ Hackers Go After Military Spouses of Strength

The CyberCaliphate, an ISIS-affiliated hacker group, is sure to make a great deal of American blood boil with their latest stunt: they hijacked the Twitter account of a support group for called Military Spouses of Strength, which “aims to improve mental health awareness by providing resources and knowledge through tangible programming” in the words of their mission statement.

CyberCaliphate used the pilfered account to post creepy threats against members of the group.

Following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the hacker collective called “Anonymous” declared cyber-warfare against ISIS, hacking a number of social media accounts and websites used by the terrorist group and its sympathizers. A counter-attack was launched by an ISIS-aligned group of hackers called the “CyberCaliphate,” who specialize in hijacking major social media accounts (such as the Twitter account of Newsweek) and using them to broadcast terrorist propaganda messages.

“You think you’re safe but the Islamic State is already here. CyberCaliphate got into your PC and smartphone,” read the threat, delivered to half a dozen Military Spouses of Strength followers – a message designed to make them think their personal electronics had been hacked or infected with a virus.

As captured by CNN, the string of intimidating messages to group members was capped off with the same threat leveled against the Obama family when CyberCaliphate got control of Newsweek’s Twitter feed on Tuesday: “Bloody Valentine’s Day, Michelle Obama! We’re watching you, your girls, and your husband!”

The terror-sympathizing hackers’ choice of target probably was not random, as Military Spouses of Strength leader Liz Snell told CNN last month that she “wouldn’t allow the ISIS-related hack of the U.S. military’s Central Command Twitter account to deter her fight to help military spouses in distress.” The group members who were quoted in that January article were all hit with threatening messages by the CyberCaliphate.

After the Twitter hack on Tuesday, she told CNN she did not expect this kind of retaliation: “Initially, I felt scared. I think I would be lying if I didn’t, if I said otherwise. I feel a sense of responsibility to our members and followers. Military Spouses of Strength was formed for military spouses to feel that they have a safe place.”

Snell felt it best to shut down the group’s Twitter account while the safety of its members is looked after, and said she has reported the hack to the FBI. In accordance with its standard policy on hacking incidents, the FBI would not comment on the complaint or any investigation it might have launched.

One of the Military Spouses of Strength members who received a threatening Tweet, Amy Bushatz, was also harassed on Facebook by a CyberCaliphate member, whose Facebook page was subsequently deleted. Bushatz, who also happens to be a reporter and editor for the 10-million-strong Military.com, said that while caution was advisable in a situation like this, she and her fellow military spouses refused to live in fear: “If they think they can have control over us by frightening us, they’re wrong.”

The CyberCaliphate’s offensive also included a raid on the text-alert system of news station WBOC in Maryland, which was used to beam out 16,000 copies of a message reading “We’re CyberCaliphate! With Allah’s permission we’re coming for you!  You’ll see no mercy, infidel!”

Also, a report from The Hill linked by CNN tells of a military spouse whose personal account was invaded by CyberCaliphate hackers and used to transmit a longer and more detailed version of their stock threat: “While your president and your husband are killing our brothers in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan we’re coming for you. You think you’re safe but the IS is already here, CyberCaliphate got into your PC and smartphone.  We know everything about you, your husband and your children and we’re much closer than you can even imagine. You’ll see no mercy infidel!”

Fortune notes that this has been a busy week for hackers, as hooligans who were probably not connected with the CyberCaliphate also managed to replace the usual dreamy vistas of enticing vacation destinations on the Facebook page of Delta Airlines with obscene images, and even managed to gain control of the Twitter feed of Twitter’s chief financial officer, Anthony Noto, using it to pump out a string of spam messages.

Not everyone is convinced that the CyberCaliphate is a genuine arm of ISIS or a bona fide group of terrorist sympathizers. Over at International Business TimesDavid Gilbert looked over the history of CyberCaliphate attacks and speculated that the group might be an alias used by the “Lizard Squad,” a pack of garden-variety vandals who like to use terrorist rhetoric in their escapades because they know it captures media attention.  As Gilbert observes, the sort of mayhem the CyberCaliphate perpetrates is a relatively simple matter of cracking or stealing the passwords to websites and social media accounts, a significant step down from the sophisticated Internet attacks and online surveillance operations preferred by state-sponsored cyber-warriors or big-time hacking outfits like Anonymous.


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