WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 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.
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.
Twitter: "Pentagon has requested our assistance with an account security issue, and we're working with them to resolve it" - @powelldennis— ABC News (@ABC) January 12, 2015
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.
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.
“This is little more than a prank or vandalism. It’s inconvenient and it’s an annoyance. But that’s all it is,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. “It in no way compromises our operations in any way shape or form.”
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.
Col Steve Warren on Centcom twitter hack: "this is little more than a cyber prank ... in no way does this compromise our operations"— Julian E. Barnes (@julianbarnes) January 12, 2015
The tweets came shortly after U.S. Central Command posted its own 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. ISIS is already here, we are in your PCs, in each military base.”
It added: “US soldiers! We’re watching you!”
Buzzfeed reports the hacks came near the same time President Barack Obama was delivering a speech on cybersecurity in front of the Federal Trade Commission, where he said hackers are a “direct threat to the economic security of American families.”
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, Maryland.
The FBI at the time acknowledged it was looking into the Albuquerque case, and WBOC said it was also in contact with the agency.
Some IS militant videos also were posted on the Central Command’s YouTube site, purporting to show military operations and explosions.
“This is something we’re obviously looking into, and something we take seriously,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. But he cautioned against comparisons to the broader hack attack against Sony. “There’s a pretty significant difference between what is a large data breach and the hacking of a Twitter account,” he said.
A senior defense official confirmed that the two accounts were compromised and said U.S. Central Command was taking appropriate measures to address the matter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about it publicly on the record.
The military suspended the Central Command Twitter site and terminated the YouTube site. This is not the first time that U.S. government websites or other accounts have been hacked. It was not clear whether the site was attacked by the insurgent group or by sympathizers.
LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press