With as many as 100,000 Twitter accounts belonging to ISIS recruiters or supporters, the terrorist organization has created a virtual army. In response, the hacking community is arming itself to fight back.
“I think we could do a really good job at competing and in some cases preventing the stuff that’s happening in the U.S.,” said computer scientist and hacker Tim Newberry.
They won’t use guns, bombs or military, but it will take an army of soldiers who understand the power of 140 characters, the significance of a 60-second YouTube video and the reach of social media.
“It’s critical,” said Newberry, one of the founders of White Canvas Group, a technology solutions incubator. “That’s how they fundraise, how they recruit. That’s how they communicate their message.”
ISIS has used social media to its advantage more than any other terrorist group. ISIS recruiters use Facebook, Twitter and encrypted apps to lure young people from all over the world to join their growing army. It’s happened in Colorado, Virginia and here in Chicago.
“They start right in the open, right in front of our faces,” Newberry said. “We can watch them quickly transition, because they’re very smart, into a lot of actually highly encrypted communication.”
Newberry’s company developed software that identifies ISIS recruiters. His research has exposed hundreds of recruiting sites, some of which have already been shut down or altered by other organizations.
“It’s telling us with 95 to 100 percent accuracy,” he said. “This is a bad guy. This is a bad guy. This is a bad guy, in real time.”
Newberry hopes the hacking community will embrace the idea and help shut down the ISIS recruiting pipeline. The idea is not such a stretch.
After the recent terrorist attack in Paris, the hacktivist group Anonymous released videos in English, French and Italian declaring war on ISIS.
There’s also the controversial, patriotic hacker known only as the Jester. He claims to have taken down thousands of terrorist-run websites since 2010. During a rare online interview this week, he told NBC 5 Investigates that recruiters are using more encrypted apps and that he’s focusing on infiltrating those.
As for Newberry, he hopes to identify these recruiters before they go underground with encrypted apps.
“Once they transition from the open into that kind of closed world, you have no ability to communicate or even see their communication.
Newberry plans to release the software for free to the hacking community, in hopes it can do what the government has not been able to do - shut down the ISIS pipeline.