ISIS Urging Lone Wolf Attacks on U.S. Military Personnel

ISIS hackers continued to push the narrative of staging small-scale, lone wolf attacks on U.S. soil by publishing what they claimed were personal details about American military and government personnel and labelling them as targets.

A group calling itself the "Islamic State Hacking Division" on Wednesday released a spreadsheet that supposedly contains information about more than 1,400 U.S. government and military employees and urged ISIS followers to "act and kill" people on the list.

The spreadsheet, published and distributed on Twitter by ISIS-affiliated accounts, contains the full names, phone numbers, email addresses and passwords of what the group claims are U.S. Marine Corps, FBI, NASA and U.S. State Department employees.

The list was published along with a message from the hackers: "We are extracting confidential data and passing on your personal information to the soldiers of the khilafah, who soon with the permission of Allah will strike at your necks in your own lands," CNN reported.

CNN said it tested some of the details listed in the spreadsheet and found many of the phone numbers and email addresses were not in service. However, one person on the list, whose number was correct, confirmed to reporters that he had previously served in the U.S. military.

Another person on the list was reached by email. He confirmed that he was a government employee and said he had been warned by the U.S. military that his information was on the list.

Although some of the details were found to be correct, cybersecurity experts have questioned whether they were compiled as a result of a sophisticated hack.

One computer security expert, Troy Hunt, told the Guardian newspaper that many of the details could have been taken from existing data breaches or from publicly available information.

"It's pretty clear that it's been aggregated from different sources," Hunt said, adding, "It's been put together on the basis of a .gov or .mil address. Even the passwords, they're not strong enough to have come from a corporate or government."

Assessing the risk of attacks tied to the publicized list, Matthew Levitt, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Newsweek it is not the information leaks that are dangerous but the repetitive messages to kill, which are are highly effective in prompting people to perpetrate lone wolf attacks.

ISIS is a unique terrorist group, Levitt says. "Lone offender terrorism is very effective. Even though it's not 9/11-style terrorism, in some ways it's worse. It's constant, the tempo is very fast and it's more about inspiring lone actors and making people feel very afraid."

"If constant messages with orders to kill are repeated and echoed across Twitter for example, they will plants seeds in people's heads. The messages, longer and shorter ones, create a voice in people's head to kill," Levitt says.

This is not the first time people affiliated with ISIS have claimed to hack employee details for the purpose of inspiring lone wolf attacks on specific individuals.

It costs nothing for ISIS to produce a list like this, Levitt says: "ISIS understand that the repeated retrieval of personal information really does concern governments, especially when there is a threat to them and their employees."

The list exposed on Wednesday also contained the details of eight Australian officials, according to Australian Counter-Terrorism Minister Michael Keenan, who confirmed on Thursday that the personal information of eight officials had been released by the hackers.

"We are aware that there has been a hack that comprised around 1,500 people, and eight of those are Australians," Keenan told Sky News.

"We do have those details, but I'm not going to share them publicly. But, obviously, if we felt that anybody was at risk, we would make contact with them," he said.

In March, the same group posted online a list purporting to show the names and home addresses of over 100 U.S. military personnel. Again, they called on "brothers residing in America" to kill those on the list, Pentagon officials said.