Here’s Exactly How Hackers Are Taking the Fight to ISIS

Anonymous is making good on its threat of retribution.

As French jets pounded ISIS training camps in retaliation for the vicious Paris terror attacks that left at least 129 dead, hacker collective Anonymous vowed to “hunt down” the terrorists in the group’s “biggest operation ever.”

So far, they seem to be making good on their threats. 

On Tuesday, Anonymous reported that it had successfully taken down more than 5,500 Twitter accounts associated with ISIS as part of the hacker group’s #OpParis campaign . According to a report from the Independent, at least one list of ISIS accounts released by the collective contains the personal information and physical address of an alleged terror recruiter operating in Europe.

The announcement of the campaign, an extension of Anonymous’ previous campaign against ISIS in the aftermath of January’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, was met with skepticism — and rightfully so. After all, the collective’s efforts seem isolated to taking down Twitter accounts (not exactly as effective as, say, a bombing run), and recent efforts by the group to unmask wrongdoers have fallen flat..

But disrupting social networks and websites is no insignificant front in the battle against ISIS. The terror group relies heavily on social media to make inroads with would-be jihadists in Western countries, using propaganda and phony accounts to recruit disaffected Muslim youths into the organization and draw them to the battlefields of Syria. As intelligence analyst Jeff Bardin wrote in Business Insider earlier this year, ISIS is far more sophisticated in its use of online propaganda — from gruesome beheading videos to thousands of fake social media profiles — than any other terror group in history. Driving ISIS from the digital space helps to disrupt a crucial channel for recruiting potential militants. 

While Anonymous works to disrupt ISIS’s vast digital propaganda apparatus, another group of hackers are working hard is taking a different appraoch. Ghost Security Group, a self-described collective of “international volunteer counterterrorism operatives,” isn’t just working to shut down ISIS websites but drive terrorists into the hands of law enforcement. The Daily Dot’s William Turton reports:

The group is credited with providing information that led to law enforcement disrupting a plot to recreate the Sousse beach massacre in Tunisia that left 38 British tourists dead, according to Michael Smith, COO of Kronos Advisory. A private defense contractor, Kronos often serves as a middleman between law enforcement and Ghost Security, whose members prefer to keep at arms length from police.

“[Ghost Security] have developed very rich knowledge of the Islamic State’s online activities, with focus on its social networks,” Smith told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. “They’ve been very instrumental in helping authorities identify communications about offline activities like recruitments, in some instances actual attack plots, and they’ve been especially useful in terms of things that are more difficult-to-monitor communications platforms like Telegram messenger.”

This ostensible cooperation with local law enforcement by Ghost Security is noteworthy. Where Anonymous, skeptical of law enforcement agencies (for obvious reasons) and other entrenched institutions, tends to go it alone in their online campaigns against the like of Scientology and the KKK, Ghost Security works to pass relevant information to counterterrorism agencies and officials at the FBI and elsewhere through Kronos, ensuring that the intelligence they gather supplements wider counterterrorism operations.

Of course, unmasking a bunch of anonymous Twitter accounts isn’t enough to drive the bloodthirsty militants of ISIS back into the pit they climbed out of. But given the tenuous relationship between hacktivists and law enforcement in the past, the complementary efforts of Ghost Security and Anonymous are a fascinating wrinkle to modern counterterrorism efforts

More importantly, it’s proof that if there’s one shared goal that can bring radically different people together, it’s the eradication of those vicious monsters who murdered innocent people in the streets of Paris.