Anonymous Declared War on ISIS — And Now ISIS Is Hitting Back
Anonymous, the anarchic online collective of hackers and trolls, has once again declared "war" on the Islamic State group, which claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. As of Tuesday, 129 are confirmed dead and more than 350 are wounded. According to Business Insider, a channel on the messaging app Telegram believed to be affiliated with ISIS sent out a message in response — and they're not impressed. ISIS called Anonymous "idiots."
Read next: This Is How Anonymous' Fight Against ISIS Hurts Actual Counterterrorism
The threat: Messages posted to various Anonymous-linked Twitter accounts announced the campaign, intended to disrupt ISIS's online presence and communications.
Various messages posted to Twitter touted media coverage of the campaign. Claims popped up stating that Anonymous had taken down thousands of ISIS-linked social media accounts. That amount, if credible, may include prior efforts as well.
The response: The Islamic State group does not seem fazed by a threat posed by the people best known for wearing Guy Fawkes masks at protests.
"The #Anonymous hackers threatened in new video release that they will carry out a major hack operation on the Islamic state (idiots)," said the ISIS-linked account.
They also taunted Anonymous for managing to crack only ISIS-related Twitter and email accounts: "What they gonna hack?"
The background: Other targets of Anonymous operations have included Scientology recruiters on Craigslist, secret members of the Ku Klux Klan, and the GamerGate controversy (both as part of it and against it). The group has also attacked various government agencies, corporations and security firms who have seen their websites defaced or forced offline by distributed denial of service attacks, as well as had internal communications like email leaked.
In the other corner, ISIS boasts a sophisticated online recruiting and propaganda network, which the BBC reports it uses to broadcast "extensive details of its operations, including the number of bombings, suicide missions and assassinations it has carried out, and of checkpoints and towns it controls."
ISIS even has its own Arabic-language app, The Dawn of Glad Tidings, which automatically retweets Islamic State group media releases from users' personal accounts, as well as an array of official and sympathizer accounts on virtually every social media platform imaginable. According to Haaretz, the terrorist organization even has dedicated social media editors.
The group also uses its online network to send fear through the hearts of its enemies, particularly through gruesome photos and videos of executions and torture.
"Nearly everyone has seen the pictures of crucified enemies, the snapshot of the headless corpse of a little girl in a party dress, the videos of victims moments before a knife cuts through their necks," Kurdish peshmerga infantryman Bahjat Majid told TechCrunch in 2014. "Maybe the peshmerga are strong, but they're also afraid. The strong media ... affects people."
Following the attacks in Paris, ISIS Twitter accounts acted in a coordinated fashion to dispense the group's propaganda.
Anonymous attacks on ISIS might be highly entertaining — who doesn't like watching a bunch of nerds successfully enrage battle-hardened terrorists half a world away? But the grim reality is that one of the world's largest, deadliest terrorist organizations is unlikely to be more than momentarily inconvenienced by having its Twitter presence disrupted.
Still, it may have some impact, however small. In a recent Foreign Policy profile on GhostSec, an "elite cadre of current and former Anonymous members," retired Army Gen. David Petraeus commented that he had seen some intelligence recovered from the effort and said some of it could have "considerable value" to counterterrorism operations.