Thoughts on the ISIS hack of CENTCOM

Advertising works. Propaganda works.

If the goal of this attack was publicity, then ISIS scored a victory – even if only on the cyber battlefield. Every major news organization in the world covered this story. ISIS is surely presenting it as a victory within its territories – and ISIS sympathizers in the West will also be impressed.

Nation-states spend enormous amounts of money on propaganda. Check out this image of a U.S. "leaflet bomb" dropped on North Korea over 50 years ago. What do you think: should we drop VHS or DVD copies of The Interview on North Korea today?

This attack shows that ISIS has a desire, and already some capability, to compete with the U.S. in cyberspace – where the U.S. is supposed to be dominant. For ISIS, the reach of cyberspace is global, not just Iraq and Syria, which offers ISIS opportunities that it would not otherwise have.

On a technical level, if publicity was the sole goal of this ISIS operation, then their hacker prowess was good enough to complete the mission. We do not know if this is ISIS’s only cyber operation, but I doubt it. It suggests, on the contrary, that ISIS probably has other ongoing cyber operations that are designed solely to collect intelligence that would help it achieve real-world battlefield victories.

This will be a short-term victory, however, unless ISIS can back it up with other successful cyber and/or real-world operations. More than a black eye for CENTCOM, it is a short-term shot in the arm for ISIS supporters.

For a more in-depth look at what happened, here is my blog at ZeroFOX.