Threat Management

Anonymous ‘getting in the way’ in campaign against ISIS


Anonymous' attempts to shut down IS' online presence have been rubbished by a French security blogger, Oliver Laurelli, the co-founder of

He cast doubt on Anonymous' efforts, telling Agence France Presse that although Anonymous' campaign, which they are crowdsourcing, might seem attractive to those with a grievance, it ultimately hinders the efforts of security and intelligence services.

Laurelli told AFP that "young people identify with it and feel they can act but it is counter-productive. It is more embarrassing for the police than anything else.” 

Laurelli added, "Twitter has been quick to close down a large number of accounts but I don't know if it's a good idea." Closing those accounts, as Anonymous has attempted to do, shuts down potential points of investigation for police.

The hacktivist group released a video of one of their masked representatives declaring cyber-retaliation on IS for last Friday's attacks which killed more than 130 and left hundreds more wounded. The masked presenter said that “War is declared. Get prepared. Anonymous from all over the world will hunt you down. You should know that we will find you and we will not let you go.” 

He added that IS should “expect massive cyber-attacks”.

The group quickly opened an #OpParis twitter account to keep the public updated on the developments of its campaign against IS. As of today, it claims more than 6000 IS related twitter accounts have been shut down. It has also released the names of 9,200 accounts believed to be affiliated with the terrorist group.

Laurelli, speaking to SC, mentioned that he's somewhat ambivalent about the Anonymous campaign. While he's convinced that they're motivated by good intentions, there are risks, he said. 

First is the interference in the police investigation: “When Twitter deletes accounts, at present, it is unclear if they provide data and especially metadata to police.” 

Seven suspects were arrested in Saint Denis today after a protracted siege by French police. Those people, said Laurelli, “probably have accounts on social networks and the data needs to be exploited”. By getting these accounts off Twitter, parts of the forensic investigation into IS communications are also closed.

The other important point about these accounts being taken off Twitter is it takes away the geographic metadata associated with these suspect accounts as some of them do not disable geo-location: “These accounts depend on email and French police now have technical and legal ways to exploit them. They now have an offensive approach to exploit remotely, on the basis of the information gleaned from social networks.”

Anonymous, says Laurelli, is also at risk of political capture. Diffuse as the group is, “we know that the extreme right also like to wear the mask”, said Laurelli, referring to the Guy Fawkes visage which Anonymous borrowed from the film, V for Vendetta. From there, groups with interests other than merely combating IS can “enter and manipulate this kind of movement”.

Caroline Baylon, editor of the Journal of Cyber Policy and one of Chatham House's resident experts, thinks that though some of Laurelli's concerns are legitimate, Anonymous has her support: "They engage in a lot of digital activism – for example, actions against online censorship, including supporting the Arab Spring. In an era where corporations are increasingly powerful, they also take on big business, throwing their support behind the Occupy movement as well.” 

She added, "So many people view them as 'digital Robin Hoods'."

There have been murmurs of counter-attacks against #OpParis but whether they are from IS or not has yet to be confirmed.

This is not the first time Anonymous and IS have gone to war either. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, Anonymous shut down thousands of IS social media accounts as well as an IS dating site.

IS has predictably joined the salvo of criticism against the diffuse hacktivist network. Business Insider obtained a copy of an encrypted communication that was sent via, a communications service apparently used by members of Jihadist groups, saying “The #Anonymous hackers threatened in new video release that they will carry out a major hack operation on the Islamic state (idiots)”.

The message also states that IS affiliated individuals shouldn't open any links unless they are trusted; to keep changing IP addresses and to avoid using social media or any way they can be publicly identified.

There is also news today of IS members being forced onto the murky dark web, where they are harder to track and identify.

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