Hackers of U.S. military’s Twitter cite militant ties

Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press

Washington — Hackers claiming to work on behalf of Islamic State militants seized control of the Twitter and YouTube sites of the military’s U.S. Central Command on Monday. The Pentagon swiftly suspended the sites and said it appears that no classified material was breached.

The hacker group, which calls itself CyberCaliphate, appears to be the same one that is under FBI investigation for hijacking the websites or Twitter feeds of media outlets in the last month, including a Maryland television station and a New Mexico newspaper.

Defense officials said Monday that they have been in contact with the FBI, and that the previous breaches by the group raise questions about whether the hackers have any real connection to the Islamic State militants that are under U.S. and coalition attack in Iraq and Syria.

FBI spokesman Joshua Campbell said the bureau is investigating the Central Command Twitter and YouTube breaches and is working with the Pentagon to determine the scope of the incident.

The Central Command Twitter site was filled with threats that said “American soldiers, we are coming, watch your back.” Other postings appeared to list names, phone numbers and personal email addresses of military personnel as well as PowerPoint slides and maps.

Most of the material was labeled “FOUO,” which means “For Official Use Only,” but none of it appeared to be classified or sensitive information, suggesting the hackers did not breach classified material. U.S. Central Command said that none of the information and documents posted on the hacked site were from the command’s Internet servers or social media sites.

The breach only affected the Twitter and YouTube sites, which reside on commercial, non-Defense Department Internet servers. U.S. Central Command said its operational and military networks were not compromised, but officials are notifying law enforcement about the possible release of personal information that was posted on the Twitter site.

One of the documents appeared to be slides developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center focused on national security. The slides appeared to depict what it called “scenarios” for conflict with North Korea and China. It’s not clear where the documents came from or how long ago they might have been taken.

“This is little more than a prank or vandalism,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Warren said Pentagon officials are in contact with Twitter and YouTube to ensure that military passwords and other security for such public websites are adequate.

The tweets came shortly after U.S. Central Command posted tweets about the U.S. and partner nations continuing to attack Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria and one repeating a report that said France will deploy an aircraft carrier to the fight.

The hackers titled the Central Command Twitter page “CyberCaliphate” with an underline that said “i love you isis.” And the broader message referred to the ongoing airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and threatened, “We broke into your networks and personal devices and know everything about you. You’ll see no mercy infidels.”

The intrusion on the military Twitter account carried the same logo, CyberCaliphate name and photo that appeared on the Albuquerque Journal’s website in late December when one of its stories was hacked. And earlier this month, it appeared that the same hackers breached the Journal’s Twitter account and also took over the website and Twitter feed of WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Md.

Privacy proposals

President Barack Obama on Monday proposed strengthening laws against identity theft by requiring notification when consumer information is hacked and protecting students’ private data.

Obama also called for more free access to all consumer credit rating services. While customers can get annual credit reports free once a year, FICO credit scores typically cost money to obtain, although some banks have been offering them free to customers.