Report: ISIS-related cyber war reaches Alabama

The war against Islamic State has resulted in a cyber attack on US soil, and other such attacks are likely, according to a new report from Bat Blue Networks

ISIS-related cyber war reaches Alabama
Credit: Thinkstock/Thierry Ehrmann

The war against Islamic State has resulted in a cyber attack on US soil, and other such attacks are likely, according to a new report from Bat Blue Networks.

According to the security firm, the cyber vandalism of websites for a sheriff's office and cultural center in Etowah County, Ala., is particularly surprising given that the hacker who claimed responsibility is affiliated with a group that has been pro-American in the past.

This particular attack was very unsophisticated, said Bat Blue CEO Babak Pasdar. The attackers found a vulnerability on a server owned by a web hosting company and defaced multiple sites.

"We believe it was just one attack that compromised one system with multiple websites," he said. "It was not separate attacks."

The virtual vandalism was a message that began with "Hacked by MuhmadEmad," referred to themselves as Kurdish hackers, and ended with a condemnation of ISIS.

The Kurds have had a reasonably friendly relationship with the U.S., and have actually been fighting against ISIS on the ground.

"When you look at the factions out there, the Kurds have been the most successful in battling and actually forcing Islamic State soldiers back," said Pasdar.

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But while the Kurds and the U.S. might be on the same side when it comes to ISIS, there is a major area of frustration.

Turkey has been using the conflict with ISIS as an opportunity to go after terrorists in general -- and that has included its own independence-minded Kurd population -- and the sentiment on the ground is that the U.S. hasn't done much to protect the Kurds, Pasdar said.

In particular, Turkey has been bombing Kurdish separatists in Syria and Iraq, which has led to civilian losses, Pasdar said.

"The U.S. is leveraging their bases in Turkey to wage the war against the Islamic State," said Pasdar. "And has been silent on this whole thing because they don't want to cause any friction with Ankara."

At least 40,000 people have died over the past three decades, according to reports, as a result of violence in southeastern Turkey.

"The Kurds are feeling frustrated that the Turkish military is waging a war on them that has an impact not just on the paramilitary but on the civilians," said Pasdar.

Launching cyber attacks against the U.S. doesn't seem like the best move, politically, to get the U.S. to step in on the Kurdish side of the conflict.

"You're talking about people who don't necessarily lead with diplomacy," said Pasdar. "The type of folks who would wage a cyberwar typically lean towards the younger side, typically very emotionally charged, and they're fresh with the memories of Kurdish civilian losses and they want to lash out. The fact is that these guys are feeling frustrated because they feel that the U.S. is standing idly by."

The attack in Alabama was most likely an opportunistic one, he said, designed to get their message out, and an indication of the sentiment on the ground.

"And when one attack occurs, there are usually follow-up attacks," he said. "There are usually people who jump on the bandwagon -- especially hackers."

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