- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Islamic State currently lacks the capability of launching a sophisticated cyberattack against the United States, but experts and officials say the terror group is striving towards being able to cripple America’s critical infrastructure as it recruit computer-savvy extremists.

Hack attacks attributed thus far to the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have been more akin to online vandalism than a full-fledged cyber assault, but insiders agree that the group is intent on increasing its cyber capabilities as it struggles to gain new ground in its fight against the United States and its allies.

“The capability’s not there and that’s why we’re seeing these low-level attacks of opportunity,” Alex Kassirer, a terrorism analyst with the U.S.-based Flashpoint cybersecurity firm, told Politico this week. “But that’s not to say it’s going to be that way going forward. They’re undoubtedly working on cultivating those skills.”

The U.S. assistant secretary of homeland security for infrastructure protection has said that Islamic State hackers have already attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to wage real damage against America’s electrical grid, and online forums frequented by terror suspects and sympathizers are ripe with discussions where aviation and nuclear sector targets are routinely discussed, Flashpoint said.

“I see them already starting to explore things that are concerning, critical infrastructure, things like that,” FBI Director James Comey said previously of the group. “The logic of it tells me it’s coming, and so of course I’m worried about it.

Up until now, however, the group’s attacks have largely fallen flat; Islamic State and its supporters have so far been attributed with accomplishing not much more than having briefly taken over the social media accounts and websites of a handful of agencies and news outlets.

Experts warn that those attacks pose a problem nonetheless and are likely to only increase in severity.

“You’re dealing with a group that’s more unconstrained than [nation] states, China, Iran and so forth … that’s launched extraordinary terror attacks, beheadings, that sort of thing,” Dick Newton, a retired Air Force general who directed cyber policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Politico “They are willing to create havoc.”

A key figure within the Cyber Caliphate, a British hacker named Junaid Hussain, was killed in August in a U.S.-led airstrike, and American officials told reporters earlier this month that the Pentagon has already compiled a suite of cybertools to use against Islamic State targets of its own.

Last month, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced an additional investment of £1.9 billion, or roughly $2.8 billion, over the next five years towards cybersecurity measures that will be used to either defend or attack targets like the terror group.

“ISIL are already using the internet for hideous propaganda purposes; for radicalization, for operational planning too. They have not been able to use it to kill people yet by attacking our infrastructure through cyber attack. They do not yet have that capability. But we know they want it, and are doing their best to build it,” Mr. Osborne said.

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