Digilantes – GhostSec & Co

I recently came across some articles on the so-called “digilantes” and, in particular, one of their declination named GhostSec, a sort of hacktivist group dedicated to eliminate the online islamic extremist contents. Following information available on their activities, 59,000 Twitter accounts, 1,300 YouTube propaganda videos and 130 standalone sites would have been disabled as a result of GhostSec’s tip-offs.

According to Michael S. Smith, the principal of national security company Kronos Advisory, the information GhostSec is providing allows LEAs to “take a more pro-active stance” against IS online activities.

Last February, Mikro, the “operation officer” of GhostSec, founded another group known as CtrlSec, originating it too from Anonymous, but no longer affiliated, being “a structure with leadership” and needing money. The declared sole mission of CtrlSec is to eliminate pro-ISIS accounts on Twitter by employing 28 operatives, many of whom can read Arabic, able to identify 200 to 600 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts a day. Their digital surveillance would be effective so much that ISIS supporters had posted online an hit list in which CtrlSec held the first place.

GhostSec, CtrlSec and Anonymous operations have been at the centre of media attention and have given rise to some bold suggestions, such as funding “efforts of third-party hackers like Anonymous to dismantle the Islamic State”. Though the article appeared on Foreignpolicy months ago (http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/03/the-u-s-government-should-pay-anonymous-in-bitcoin-to-fight-isis/) contains a number of thoughtful and interesting points, it raises issues of principle which need to be considered with vision. Albeit the article’s emphasis on the need to roll back the Islamic State’s virtual operations it is worthy of endorsement, cyberwar is a form of warfare fastly increasing, especially because the means by which is acted is available to all. Thus, any aspects of cyberwar, PSYOPs included, need to remain under the (democratic) State responsability and cannot be delegated to unknown entity not bound by law and/or infringing legitimate rights (e.g. Anonymous vs. copyright). Initiatives aimed at creating channels, collaborations, and sharing experiences with private experts, as Europol is doing, seem instead to be the wise direction to follow.