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US state workers named on 'IS' hit list

May 3, 2016

A 'hit list' containing the names of US government personnel has been posted on a social networking channel for sympathizers of IS. It seems that a tit-for-tat cyber war with the FBI is intensifying.

Symbolbild Computer Hacker
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

The “hit list” contains the names of State Department and Homeland Security personnel. It was reportedly posted on a social networking channel by sympathizers of the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS).

A list of 43 people with various federal affiliations appeared on a Telegram channel used by the hacking groups known as United Cyber Caliphate (UCC) along with a statement indicating that the named were “Wanted to be killed.”[sic]

Sticks and stones

“Your system failed to Tackling [sic] our attacks. Now we will Crush you again,” the statement continued, as reported by news site Vocativ, citing the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Among those on the list were people with ties to the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the departments of defense, energy, commerce and health and services.

The State Department made no immediate comment on the hit list.

Cyber war

The news came at a time when the US government has reportedly declared "cyber war" on IS.

It also follows a recent dispute between the federal authorities and Apple over encryption, hacking and civil liberties.

According to the New York Times, the US government began its own cyberattacks recently against IS, dropping what one official described as "cyberbombs."

The latest hit list from IS could have been posted in response to these attacks, an FBI spokesperson said.

Random names

An IS-connected hacking group in late April also posted online a previous "hit list" with names and personal information of about 3,000 people living in New York.

The names appeared to have been chosen randomly from old lists, although the FBI said it would be contacting all the people whose name or personal information had been posted. The names were posted to Telegram, an encrypted messaging app but were removed soon afterwards.

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"The FBI routinely notifies individuals and organizations of information collected during the course of an investigation that may be perceived as potentially threatening in nature," a spokesperson said.

NBC New York gained access to the data and mapped the locations of New Yorkers on the list. There was a high concentration of people in northern Brooklyn but far fewer in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.

Anything you can do...

The FBI said in December it had contacted several government employees whose names appeared on an earlier list circulated by supporters of IS.

Federal prosecutors said that list was provided by a Kosovo man named Ardit Ferizi, who stole the names from a compromised computer database.

“This posting was intended to provide IS supporters in the US and elsewhere with the PII [Personally Identifiable Information] belonging to the listed government employees for the purpose of encouraging terrorist attacks against those individuals,” the FBI said at the time.

IS geeks get it together

UCC is believed to be a composite of previously established IS hacking collectives, including Ghost Caliphate Section, Sons Caliphate Army, Caliphate Cyber Army and Kalachnikov E-security.

UCC reportedly appeared earlier this month on Telegram, a social networking service where users have the option of protecting communications using end-to-end encryption.

Symbolbild Rakka Kämpfer der IS
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

There appears to be some confusion as to the extent of the hackers' sophistication. After attacks in Europe in late 2015 and early 2016, reports emerged that IS had an army of organized hackers providing support to its foot soldiers. Although this has yet to be verified, IS seems to be showing more interest in expanding its hacking capabilities.

jbh/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)