The ongoing war between the so-called Islamic State and the western world's premiere hacktivist group Anonymous has been amped up, yet again.
Anonymous has recently stumbled in its campaign, called #OpParis, to shut down IS's social media presence. #OpParis was launched after the Paris attacks which left nearly 150 dead and hundreds more injured, and took the form of a crowd-sourced campaign to attempt to find members of or recruiters for IS on Twitter and stop them from spreading their message.
In classical masked fashion, Anonymous published a video this week that claimed 20,000 Twitter accounts affiliated with IS had been shut down thanks to its efforts and the efforts of those enthusiastic young men and women who assisted with the campaign.
Supporters of the OpParis campaign have been reporting suspected IS Twitter accounts to Twitter and relevant law enforcement authorities. Twitter declined to say how many accounts it had deactivated as a result of these reports.
Enthusiastic though Anonymous's supporters may be, the margin of error seems to have widened significantly. Many of those 20,000 purported IS affiliates had little to do with IS or were of questionable validity. The crowd-sourcing process works how you think it would: helpful Twitter users see people they think are affiliated with IS, the #OpParis account collates those suspected accounts, puts them in one place and proceeds to post them on Twitter using an automated script.
Whether Anonymous is checking any of these names is not known but several sources have called them wildly inaccurate and the groups published lists have been noted for including non-radical Muslims and people who were merely trolling IS with an implicit level of irony.
Twitter declined to comment to SCMagazineUK.com but a spokesperson for Twitter talked to tech news site, The Daily Dot, saying, “We don't review Anonymous lists posted online, but third-party reviews have found them to be wildly inaccurate and full of academics and journalists.”
One hacktivist called th3j35t3r, with a particularly strong dislike of Anonymous, has published a tweet sent to him by the #OpParis account (since taken down) confirming that Anonymous cannot confirm whether every account they publish is a sure bet.
Anonymous' level of success in pursuing its prey can vary. In some cases it can be incredibly effective; in others, amateurish. So why is Anonymous dropping the ball?
SC spoke to Olivier Laurelli, a security blogger and founder of reflets.info who made news last week by saying that the #OpParis campaign was hindering, not helping the fight against IS.
The Paris attacks, said Laurelli, “raised an important number of young ‘Anonymous', driven by emotions. Cyber investigation should never be led by emotions.”
Conversely, Anonymous's famous Scientology fight was so successful because it was a “a long-term campaign with long term hacktivists who know their targets”.