Apparent ISIS sympathizers called CyberCaliphate hack Twitter account of military spouses
Group's leader feels scared and takes down Twitter page indefinitely
Another group member is undaunted and writes about how "they didn't win"
Military family activist Liz Snell never thought it would happen to her group: Apparent ISIS sympathizers hacked her group’s Twitter account and posted threats against a half dozen or so members.
The threats came just a month after Snell told CNN she wouldn’t allow the ISIS-related hack of the U.S. military’s Central Command Twitter account to deter her fight to help military spouses in distress.
On Tuesday, the ISIS-connected threats became personal, against her group, Military Spouses of Strength.
“I never thought we would be in this position,” Snell said Tuesday after the group’s Twitter account was hacked by a group calling itself the CyberCaliphate, which partly refers to ISIS’ efforts.
“Initially, I felt scared. I think I would be lying if I didn’t, if I said otherwise,” Snell said. “I feel a sense of responsibility to our members and followers. Military Spouses of Strength was formed for military spouses to feel that they have a safe place.”
For now, the group’s Twitter page is indefinitely shut down at Snell’s direction, and she’s ensuring everyone in her group “is being safe as possible.”
Her group promotes the mental well-being of spouses whose partners are U.S. military personnel deployed to the battlefield, often repeatedly.
Cyberwar: Anonymous vs. ISIS
The hacking is the latest volley in an ongoing cyberbattle that pits ISIS and its sympathizers against hacking groups such as Anonymous, which on Tuesday claimed responsibility for cyberassaults against nearly 800 Twitter accounts, 12 Facebook pages and more than 50 email addresses linked to ISIS.
On the other side of the cyberwarfare is CyberCaliphate, which claims ISIS ties. On Tuesday, it appeared the group hacked the Twitter accounts of Newsweek and the breaking news system of a Maryland television station.
According to Newsweek, IBTimes.com, the website of the International Business Times, was also hacked.
CyberCaliphate is the same organization that was confirmed to have hacked the Twitter account for U.S. Central Command earlier this year.
The group also posted threatening tweets against first lady Michelle Obama and others.
On the Twitter account of Military Spouses of Strength, the ISIS sympathizers posted a threatening form letter and opened each threat with the name of one of the six or seven members of the group.
“You think you’re safe but IS is already here. #CyberCaliphate got into your PC and smartphone,” the threat said.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is also known as the Islamic State (IS). The militants, condemned internationally, seek an extreme Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria.
Filing an FBI report
Snell said the threats targeted group members who were quoted in a CNN article in January entitled “After ISIS Twitter threat, military families rethink online lives.” Snell was also featured in a 2014 CNN project about suicides and suicidal acts among military spouses, whose experiences often go uncounted in official studies.
“It looks like to me that everyone who was threatened was connected to the CNN article,” Snell said.
Snell reported the apparent ISIS-related hacking to the FBI.
The FBI doesn’t confirm if it receives particular complaints and wasn’t commenting Tuesday on whether it was investigating Snell’s complaint, said FBI spokeswoman Lindsay Ram.
“Depending on the nature of the threat and the extent of any related attacks, it may be appropriate for the FBI to investigate the intrusion. If there is a threat of physical violence, victims are also encouraged to contact local authorities,” Ram said.
‘That is creepy’
Amy Bushatz, another Military Spouses of Strength member who was threatened, said she also received a friend request on her personal Facebook page that originated from a group apparently connected to ISIS.
The friend request came from a person who identified himself as “Gaspar CyberCaliphate Sadz.” The friend request featured a person’s head wrapped in a black-and-white checkered head scarf.
“I thought, well, that is creepy,” Bushatz said Tuesday.
When she went to look at that person’s Facebook page again, “it was gone,” Bushatz said. “It had been deleted.”
Then Bushatz learned of the threat on the military spouses’ Twitter account.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say it (made) me a little nervous,” Bushatz said. “I don’t think you can receive what appears to be a personal threat from ISIS without being nervous.”
But Bushatz said Tuesday, as she did in January, that she won’t live in fear.
Bushatz is a reporter and editor for Military.com, which describes itself as “the largest military and veteran membership organization,” with 10 million members. She covers military spouses and family news, she said.
“Being in a military family is a vulnerable place to be,” Bushatz said. “So I would say being cautious isn’t a bad thing, but we’re not people who live in fear. If they think they can have control over us by frightening us, they’re wrong.”
Citing such personal safety measures, both Snell and Bushatz declined to give their husband’s names and the military base to which they’re assigned.
Threatened but ‘they didn’t win’
Bushatz, whose husband is an officer in the Army, also writes the SpouseBuzz column for Military.com, and on Tuesday, she wrote a story about how “ISIS Threatened Me But They Didn’t Win.”
“You might be thinking ‘that’s what you get for being stupid enough to be quoted by name in a CNN article about ISIS and cyberthreats.’ However, the decision to have my name used in that story wasn’t a hard one. My name is everywhere — here, on Military.com and in other national publications. I am a public person. That ship has sailed,” Bushatz wrote.
Another military spouse told The Hill website that her Twitter account was hacked by someone claiming to be part of ISIS.
The threat by the CyberCaliphate targeted military spouses and their children in the name of a “cyberjihad.”
The threat stated: “While your president and your husband are killing our brothers in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan we’re coming for you,” according to The Hill.
“You think you’re safe but the IS is already here, CyberCaliphate got into your PC and smartphone,” the threat continued.
“We know everything about you, your husband and your children and we’re much closer than you can even imagine. You’ll see no mercy infidel!” according to The Hill.
The military spouse wasn’t identified in the story, but The Hill said the Twitter account was owned by the spouse of a U.S. Marine and is used to publicize her nonprofit, which advocates for military spouses.
Newsweek, Maryland station hacked
On Tuesday, Newsweek Managing Editor Kira Bindrim confirmed that the magazine was hacked, and said the outlet had regained control of the account.
“We apologize to our readers for anything offensive that might have been sent from our account during that period, and are working to strengthen our newsroom security measures going forward,” Bindrim said.
Maryland station WBOC tweeted just after 9:30 a.m. Tuesday that its “text alerts have been hacked by the group calling itself the CyberCaliphate. WBOC is aware of the situation and working to remedy it.”
The station said as many as 16,000 subscribers received threatening messages like the following: “We’re CyberCaliphate! With Allah’s permission we’re coming for you! You’ll see no mercy infidel!”
CNN’s Alexandra Jaffe and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.