Center for Strategic Communication

Today CENTCOM’s twitter and YouTube accounts were hacked by an ISIL affiliated group.  

CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command)  has operational command for the U.S. military over the Middle East (from Egypt to Afghanistan)  – so it overlooks the fight against ISIL and the conflict in Afghanistan, as well as working closely with countries all over the region.

The hack, claimed by the ISIL affiliated group CyberCaliphate, resulted in offensive messages, distribution of already published documents that the hackers dubbed as “secret” and postings of office contact details of several generals.   During the same time of the hack, the President was speaking on the need for stronger cyber-security. 

With the fall out from the cyber attack on Sony continuing, this hack has caused a wide concern in the media. But is it such a big deal ?

In national security terms –  no classified material was stolen or released, and in fact CENTCOM’s network was not affected. 

What was hacked was twitter and YouTube.  Passwords were stolen – either directly or via malware.  And that’s what we should be concerned about.

We all use social media as our voice to the world and to promote our brands. If terrorists and extremists hack our voice online they not only give false impressions of our thoughts and values – they will intrinsically affect the social media of the companies involved. 

If our trust in our online voice breaks down, we will move away from such platforms.  And social media companies will see their audience and users shrink.

As my colleague Dante Disparte has written before on cyber issues, these kinds of attacks are actually a form of economic warfare.   They are really aimed at taking down companies and holding their business models hostage, which will dramatically affect the  wider economy.

So what can be done? 

First of all, social media companies need to take this seriously – it is an attack on them foremost and their value proposition.  It’s going to matter to their bottom line. They need to be far more responsive to these kinds of attacks, as well as increasing security of their users. 

Second, as I discussed in regard to the Sony attack,  we need a very agile and pointed cyber response to take down these terrorists (whether they are connected to larger organizations or not), and we need the international community to come together to lay out the basic frameworks on greater cyber security across the board.

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