Hackers on a Revenge: Charlie Hebdo et al.

In the current State of the Union Address delivered by American President Barack Obama, the call was made for legislation to increase the capability of the U.S. to fight terrorism. While Obama probably had the recent cyber-attack that deteriorated the already fragile relationship between the US and North Korea, many interpreted his remarks as also a comment on being creative in fighting terrorist groups such as ISIS.

“If we don’t act, we will leave our nation...vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe,” Obama said.

Anonymous Attacks Terrorists

On January 18, 2015 the hacking collective Anonymous “declared war” on Islamist extremists. The announcement came following the bloody attack on Paris’ magazine Charlie Hebdo, the previous Wednesday.

Operation #OpCharlieHebdo started in reaction to the extremist attacks and the related Twitter account, @OpCharlieHebdo, posted a video tribute to the journalists killed in the attack.

One of Anonymous’ first barrages in the campaign started on that Saturday when the website Ansar-Alhaqq.net, a jihadist site, was attacked. In their attack, the collective also warned that anyone who blocks freedom of expression can also expect a “…frontal assault from us.” The group went on to declare war against the terrorists in a video posted on YouTube.

Observers seem to be split in the effectiveness of “hacktivists” like Anonymous declaring war on terrorists. While some feel that the hacker community can successfully fight ISIS since it is not an online business and don’t believe that much useful information can be gathered from hacking the terrorist group’s social networks, others feel that that the extremist’s online publications would make perfect targets of opportunity for Anonymous.

Anonymous, a group comprised of hackers and activists, supported the Occupy movement in 2011/2012 and typically used Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) as a way to bring down websites. Among the groups targets have been government agencies as well as websites belonging to religious and corporate groups.


The Ukrainian hacktivist group known as CyberBerkut claimed to be responsible for 3 NATO website attacks in a series of DDoS. The group believes NATO has stirred up the chaos in Ukraine and supported the Kiev junta as it suppresses freedom of speech in the country. In a note placed on the group’s site, CyberBerkut claims its members will not “…allow the presence of NATO…”occupation. The hacktivists also claimed they were working in response to the action of the “Tallin cyber center” or NATO Coop Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, hired by the Kiev junta.com.

NATO has confirmed the attacks on its websites but claimed no critical systems hit and that NATO systems remained intact.

Cyber-attacks have also escalated across the border as Ukrainian and Western media outlets were running the account of a Russian military invasion in Ukraine. Hacktivists supporting the Maidan coup have targeted Russian government websites and Russian media websites as well.

In March, hackers temporarily shut down the Russian presidency’s site as well as the Russian Central Bank’s online page. Several days later the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website was disrupted and officials did not rule out the possibility of hacktivist attacks.


Like the Redscare of the 50s or the Greenscare of the 90s, a Cyberscare is already occurring. Mainstream media has shown Americans how the cyberscare has taken root with the fierce prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the fines and stiff prison sentence of Jeremy Hammond and the five-year prison sentence handed down last week to Barrett Brown.

At the forefront of the cyberscare are people like Michael Hayden, a retired US Air Force four-star general and Director of the NSA from 1999 until 2005. It was during Hayden’s tenure that the controversial NSA surveillance of American citizens started. Hayden took his cyber-fears to the Central Intelligence Agency in 2006 where he helped deepen and broaden US government technology surveillance until February, 2009, while at the same time stepping up government efforts to hunt down and prosecute hackers.

The architect of America’s anti-hacker mentality can be seen in a line from a speech about cybersecurity Hayden made to the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington DC-based think-tank:

“If…we grab Edward Snowden and bring him back for trial, what does the group [hackers] do?” Hayden expanded on this statement when he referred to hackers as “…nihilists, anarchists, activists, and naïve people who haven’t talked to girls in years," said Hayden.

Remember, it was under Hayden’s leadership that NSA developed programs to gather data on practically every online and phone conversation inside the US. Hayden’s comments reflect the government’s attitude and suggests, with problematic, direct and disturbing honesty, the manner in which the USA treats groups who could be used to fight terrorism.

Hire Hackers?

In 2012, an FBI official pointed out that America is not winning the hacking war. Another expert, John Arquilla, believes he has come up with the solution: Hire the hackers instead of prosecuting them.

John Arquilla, a defense analyst with the Naval Postgraduate School, told Guardian in a recent interview that the US has slipped way behind the rest of the world in the cyber race. Setting up a type of “Bletchley Park” of computer whizzes and hackers to detect, track and disrupt the enemies’ networks would go a long way towards ending the war on terror Arquilla told the British media outlet.

Twenty years ago, Arquilla coined the term “cyber warfare.” Returning to his theme of hackers vs. terrorists, Arquilla acknowledges that several master hackers have already been recruited. He is quick to add that many more are needed. Arquilla’s reasoning for suggesting hiring hackers instead of prosecuting them is basic: Hackers are sentenced to lengthy jail terms, often out of proportion to their “crime.” These, long prison sentences increase the tension between the government and those who could help the government fight terrorists.

“Most of them [hackers] don’t have a political agenda; they can be turned into patriots in cyber warfare,” Arquilla said.

Cyber Warfare

What is the definition of cyber warfare?

Arkady Bukh, a criminal attorney in New York and an expert in computer and internet crimes, defines cyber warfare as the “…use of hacking to plan attacks on a target’s tactical resources for the purpose of espionage and/or sabotage.” OK, lots of buzzwords, so break it down.

Cyber warfare, in its scariest manifestation, also targets the most valuable asset a country has: its citizenry. Cyber-attacks could be launched to destabilize the population through attacking major financial sectors and damaging the country’s economy. Additionally, public communication links could be abruptly terminated. Imagine what could happen if America’s cell networks and internet access went down suddenly.

When all is said and completed, there are no experts who know 100 percent what cyber warfare will look like in the future. Hackers once sent to prison for decades may end up working for the very government that prosecuted them.

"Politics makes strange bedfellows," the American novelist, Charles Dudley Warner, said.

Maybe the same could be said about cyber warfare today.