Cover Story Overview

The Risks Posed by Jihadist Hackers
By Christopher Heffelfinger

The current pool of jihadist hackers (or jihadist hacktivists) is youthful, ambitious in its goals, and largely lagging in terms of its technical capabilities. This is best illustrated by the fact that these hackers have carried out few effective large-scale attacks to date. There are a range of skillsets, leadership abilities and ideologies among jihadist-inspired hacktivists, however, and some individual hackers have carried out small- to medium-scale cyber attacks against U.S. government and private sector targets, with moderate impact in terms of data loss and exposure. This article evaluates existing jihadist cyber attack capabilities, offers a case study on a leading pro-jihadist hacktivist, and examines the rise in interest in cyber attacks among proponents of jihadist activism generally. It finds that although cyber attacks are becoming a more common and desirable means of furthering the global jihadist agenda, the overall impact and sophistication of jihadist hacktivists’ attacks have been relatively low and will likely remain as such in the near term.

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