An analysis of ISIS from the angle of the cyber world.

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Nance and Sampson announce in the first chapter of Hacking ISIS: "We are waging a war against terrorism on many fronts in the physical world, but the darkest of all is the cyber world—a shadow battlefield."

The authors are respectively a former naval officer, MSNBC terrorism analyst, and executive director of the nonprofit Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy (TAPSTRI) and a terror and political media director at TAPSTRI. They explain that soon after the Islamic State (ISIS) captured Mosul in 2014, a Tunisian named Fathi ben Awn ben Jildi Murad al-Tunisi—nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf—became the ISIS information technology specialist. He assembled a "four to seven terabyte offline central database" containing all the financial and personnel records necessary to run the Islamic State. The "key to the Caliphate," as the authors call it, even had the "mobile phone numbers, Twitter handles, Facebook accounts, and social media links" of every ISIS member. According to the authors, the U.S. Delta Force killed Abu Sayyaf in a May 17, 2015 raid and recovered his "key to the Caliphate," which has helped to dismantle ISIS.

The book includes a history of ISIS, a history of the "cyber jihad," catalogues of what the authors call "Hackers, Wannabees & Fembots," and numerous explanations of how ISIS hacks and is hacked. It concludes by arguing that as ISIS loses control of territory, "the by-product will be a less centralized terror group that will rely much more on inspiring terror attacks rather than planning them and deploying cells." What the authors call a "Ghost Caliphate" will live on as its leaders decamp to a "small remote area in Yemen, the central Sahara, or a hidden corner of Somalia." Nance and Sampson warn that ISIS "will use advanced [computer] tools rather than Kalashnikovs, propaganda in place of bombs, and, like the 9/11 hijackers, they will someday be poised to conduct an asymmetric war at the place, time, and with the methodology of their choosing."

Although Nance's first book, An End to Al-Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden's Jihad and Restoring America's Honor[1] was an anti-Bush diatribe riddled with shame for America's "fallen honor," Hacking ISIS is a more sober and useful analysis.

A.J. Caschetta
Rochester Institute of Technology


[1] New York: St. Martin's Press, 2010.