Social media is used by everyone every day and has quickly becoming a huge part of life as we know. Social media has made everyone’s life easier through instant messaging, news articles, and public profiles staying in touch has never been easier. It seems that social media could do no wrong however, this is not the case. Social media has many advantages but unfortunately the resources they offer can be exploited by terrorist organizations, specifically ISIS. They can use social media to push their message across the world especially in places that they normally wouldn’t be able to. With social media ISIS is available to reach new followers and strike fear in innocent people, specifically Americans. If used maliciously, social media can become a big threat to the western world.
ISIS origins date all the way back to 2004 when “al Qaeda in Iraq” was first organized. Which was organized by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Once Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006. Abu Ayyub al-Masri eventually became the new leader and then renamed the group ISI standing for The Islamic State of Iraq. Once Masri died in 2010 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the new leader. When the civil war in Syria started they fought Syrian forces and then could gain a stronger foothold in Syria. They then changed their name to ISIS which stood for The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria since they had control of a good part of Syria. (britannica.com, 2018)
ISIS uses many different social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites. They use these sites to spread their message to others as well as harass and threaten US military and collect intel on military members. They also use these social media sites to recruit new members. ISIS understands that many young people use these types of websites so they think that if they post their messages they may be able to attract these younger people and also strike fear into their adversaries and governments that want to destroy them..
ISIS makes these profiles and post to spread propaganda about how the U.S. is to blame and how ISIS isn’t a terrorist group but rather they are a resistance group trying to fight the real evil. This propaganda tool has proven effective to recruit individuals with hacking capabilities. ISIS also will make accounts under false pretenses in order to lure US military into a group with the assumption it is a veteran friendly page. With social media ISIS has access to an unlimited number of people in every country and of every background. They believe with the right intimidation and threats that they will cause unrest for Americans through social media. This is dangerous because if ISIS has enough time with social media they can potentially cause a lot of problems as well as collect specific sensitive information on US military members and inspire other terrorist cells to infiltrate social media and cause even more problems..
It has been reported that the “hacking” division of ISIS had compiled a list of military members and their contact info and referred to it as a hit list. The original social media post was deleted but is called for the attack and death of anyone on the list.( identidy.utexas.edu) According to an unnamed defense department official, the ISIS hackers compiled information on the military members using hacked US military servers as well as public sources and social media information. Part of this information was collected in social media posts where the US military members were directly involved in strikes against the terrorist group. (pbs.org, 2015)
One of the more recent “hit lists” was in 2016 when US Air Force Drone aircrew’s personal information twas collected hrough social media and hacked government resources. This list was created in retaliation for the Drone strokes that killed isis leader Abu Hussain al-Britani. The list offered photos, addresses and phone numbers of nearly 70 US Air Force members and their families. (airforcetimes.com, 2016). In both instances, ISIS was able to work around security measures in place by employing a hacker that used simple public searches as well as hacking into business data bases that were known to contain third party data from retailers who have a large military client base. In total, 1,300 military members and their families personal information were allegedly given to ISIS. (zdnet.com, 2016)
Social media sites and private companies that cater to military are constantly in the crosshairs of terror groups. These groups want nothing more than to exploit their enemies and spread information that could potentially cause physical harm to their enemies and their families. Some possible ways to combat these types of incidents from happening is to limit your personal information on social media or better yet, delete it all together. It has been proven that social media outlets like facebook are not secure so you must take it upon yourself to make smart decisions on what to share. Its also important for private companies, retailers and Government agencies to protect their clients information with up to date security software and security measures. Nothing is 100% secure without the human element being completely committed to protecting personal information. As a 20 year veteran and 8 deployments in the US Air Force, I cant stress enough how important protecting your personal information is.