Report: Russian hackers posed as ISIS to threaten American military spouses

Matt Saintsing
May 08, 2018 - 4:05 pm

Dreamstime

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Claiming to be a part of the Islamic State (ISIS) sounds like a winning strategy if your goal is to be targeted by the American military, intelligence community, and drones. But an investigation from the Associated Press says Russian hackers did just that, and threatened to kill American military spouses.

Wait, what?

Five wives of U.S. service members received death threats from the ISIS-linked CyberCaliphate group in February of 2015, and it appeared at the time that the group’s online operations was a display of their hacking ability.

But new evidence suggests that the CyberCaliphate group was in fact a front for a Russian hacking collective, known as Fancy Bear or APT 28—the same group suspected of hacking Democratic Party servers in the 2016 Presidential election and releasing thousands of stolen emails.

Angela Ricketts, one of the women who received death threats, told the AP, “Never in a million years did I think that it was the Russians,” adding, “Not only did we play right into their hands by freaking out, but the media played right into it.”

In April 2015, the French broadcaster TV5Monde was hacked and it’s believed that CyberCaliphate was also behind that. Their signal was knocked out before group’s logo was posted on its Facebook account and website.

Instead of evidence that pointed French investigators to the Middle East, the agents concluded that Russia was to blame.

Yves Bigot, an executive at TV5Monde, told the BBC in 2016 that they were told by investigators at the French cybersecurity agency that online hackers and trolls had used Middle East-based terrorist posts to cover their tracks, and that the true culprits were Russians from APT28.

The names of the wives was given to the AP by Secureworks, a cybersecurity company. According to the AP, Fancy Bear hackers tried to gain access to the emails of military wives at the same time of the threats from CyberCaliphate.

One of the five spouses, Amy Bushatz, is a reporter for Military.com and wrote Tuesday that if the hackers gained access to her email account, they also could have accessed her Army Family Readiness Group.

“It’s not hard to see how the troop and family security situation unravels once that access is gained,” she wrote.

“If a U.S. soldier was to be captured and interrogated, how could information on his or her family be used? How could it be leveraged through social media? How could it be utilized through a targeted misinformation campaign?”