More details are emerging about Junaid Hussain, the twenty-something British expatriate who served as a key player in the Islamic State’s online army until a U.S. drone strike took him out this week. According to an article at the Wall Street Journal, Hussain was involved in most of ISIS’s hacking and social media exploits.
“One person familiar with the matter said he hacked dozens of U.S. military personnel and published personal and financial details online, including those of a general, for others to exploit,” says the WSJ. Hussain also “helped sharpen the terror group’s defense against Western surveillance and built hacking tools to penetrate computer systems,” helped ISIS leaders develop secure online communication systems, and played a role in recruiting “lone wolf” operatives around the world, including the would-be Islamist speech code enforcers killed while trying to attack the Mohammed Art Exhibit in Garland, Texas.
It’s a bit disturbing to consider how much ISIS was able to accomplish in cyberwarfare with only a few operatives like Hussain, whose “suite of inexpensive digital tools threatened to wreak havoc on even the world’s most-powerful country.”
On the bright side, now that a man described in intercepted ISIS communiques as “one of the group’s secret weapons” has been eliminated, it won’t be easy for the terror state to replace him. It is duly noted that the Islamic State hasn’t confirmed his death yet, but eulogies from ISIS groupies and people who knew Hussain personally have begun percolating through social media. The U.S. military officially declared Hussain had been killed on Friday.
Youthful hacking exploits that brought Hussain to the Islamic State’s attention, including hacking into an email account used by an assistant to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. That earned him a little prison time, after which he got busted again for a street fight and fled to Syria to avoid the consequences.
“By January 2014, he was communicating online with other British Muslims about how to join Islamic State, according to court documents,” the Journal writes. He would become very active in recruiting Americans as well, posting personal information about American soldiers online and encouraging his U.S. followers to murder them.
“This individual was very dangerous. He had significant technical skills, and he had expressed a strong desire to kill Americans, and recruit others to kill Americans,” said Centcom spokesman Col. Pat Ryder on Friday.
Hussain played a pivotal role in helping ISIS fighters figure out how various smartphones and social media services could be used to monitor or locate them. He was targeted by a drone while driving in a car somewhere near the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, Syria, on Monday. It will be interesting to learn the details someday of how he lost his final game of cyberwarfare against the United States military.