Whoever operates on the Web and has even interesting or relevant data sooner or later will always be hacked by someone or by some organizations.
Usually “economic” hackers take the data of interest from the victim’s network and resell it in the dark web, i.e. the system of websites that cannot be reached by normal search engines.
Currently, however, after the Bayonet operation of July 2017 in which many dark web areas were penetrated, we are witnessing a specialization of the dark web and an evolution of web espionage methods against companies and States.
These operations which, in the past, were carried out by web amateurs, such as youngsters at home, are currently carried out by structured and connected networks of professional hackers that develop long-term projects and often sell themselves to certain States or, sometimes, to some international crime organizations.
As often happens in these cases, the dark web was born from research in the military field. In fact, in the 1990s, the Department of Defense had developed a covert and encrypted network that could permanently protect the communications of the U.S. espionage “operatives” who worked abroad.
Later the secret network became a non-profit network that could be used for the usual “human rights” and for protecting privacy, the last religion of our decadence.
That old network of the State Department then intersected with the new TOR Network, which is the acronym of The Onion Router, the IT “onion” covering communication with different and often separable encryption systems.
TOR lives on the Internet edge and it acts as the basic technology for its dark web.
Like the “Commendatore” vis-à-vis Don Giovanni in Mozart’s opera.
TOR, however, is a free browser that can be easily extracted from the Web.
Obviously, the more the anonymity of those who use TOR and go on the dark web is covered by effective encryption systems, the more unintentional signals are left when browsing the dark web.
Moreover, the farther you have to go, the more pebbles you need to go back, as in the Thumbelina fairy tale.
TOR and the Dark Web were born to allow the communications of U.S. secret agents, but were later downgraded to “free” communication system to defend Web surfers from “authoritarian governments”. Currently the dark web hosts a wide underground market where drugs, stolen identities, child pornography, jihadist terrorism and all forms of illegal business are traded.
Moreover, if these dark web services are paid with uncontrollable cryptocurrencies, it is very difficult to track any kind of dark web operations.
Nowadays, about 65,000 URLs operate in the dark web, which means Internet websites and Universal Resource Locators that operate mainly via TOR.
A recent study of a company dealing with cybersecurity has demonstrated that about 15% of all dark web URLs facilitate peer-to-peer communication between users and websites usually by means of chat rooms or websites collecting images, pictures and photos, which are often steganographic means and transmit hidden and concealed texts, but also for the exchange of real goods via specialized websites for peer-to-peer trading that are also encrypted, as can easily be imagined.
Moreover, a further study conducted by a U.S. communication company specialized in web operations has shown that at least 50% of the dark websites is, in fact, legal.
This means they officially deals with things, people, data and pictures that, apparently, also apply to “regular” websites.
In other words, the dark websites have been created by means of a regular request to the national reference office of ICANN, which grants the domains and registers the permitted websites, thus communicating them to the Californian cooperative that owns the web “source codes”, although not in a monopolistic way.
Currently all the large web organizations have a dark “Commendatore” in the TOR area, such as Facebook, and the same holds true for almost all major U.S. newspapers, for some European magazines but also for some security agencies such as CIA.
Nevertheless, about 75% of the TOR websites listed by the above stated IT consultancy companies are specialized URLs for trading.
Many of these websites operate only with Bitcoins or with other types of cryptocurrencies.
Mainly illegal pharmaceuticals or drugs, items and even weapons are sold in the dark web. Said weapons are often advanced and not available in the visible and overt networks.
Some URLs also sell counterfeit documents and access keys for credit cards, or even bank credentials, which are real but for subjects other than those for whom they were issued.
In 2018 Bitcoin operations were carried out in the dark web to the tune of over 872 million US dollars. This amount will certainly exceed one billion US dollars in late 2019.
It should be recalled that the total amount of money “laundered” in the world accounts for almost 5% of the world GDP, equal to 4 trillion US dollars approximately.
Who invented the Bitcoin?
In 2011, the cryptocurrency was used for the first time as a term of trade only for drug traffickers operating in the dark web, mainly through a website called Silk Road.
The alias used for those exchanges was called Satoshi Nakamoto, that was also filmed and interviewed, but was obviously another.
We should also recall web frauds or blackmails: for example, InFraud, a U.S. organization specialized in the collection, distribution and sale of stolen credit cards and other personal data.
Before being discovered, InFraud had illegally made a net gain of 530 million US dollars.
Another group of illegal operators, Fin7, also known as Carbanak, again based in the United States, has collected over a billion US dollars on the web and has put in crisis, by blackmailing them, some commercial organizations such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Chipotle, a widespread chain of burritos and other typical dishes of Mexican cuisine.
Obviously the introduction of new control and data processing technologies, ranging from 5G to biometric sensors, or of personal monitoring technologies, increases the criminal potential of the dark web.
Hence the dark web criminals will have an even larger mass of data from which to derive what they need.
The methods used will be the usual ones, such as phishing, i.d. the fraudulent attempt to obtain or to deceive people into sharing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication possibly with a fake website, or the so-called “social engineering”, which is an online scam in which a third party pretends to be a company or an important individual in order to obtain the sensitive data and personal details of the potential victim, in an apparently legal way, or blackmail by e-mail and finally the manipulation of credentials.
With a mass of additional data on their “customers”, the web criminals will be able to perfect their operations, thus making them quicker and more effective. Or the new web technologies will be able to accelerate the time needed for blackmail or compromise, thus allowing a greater number of frauds for more victims.
Biometrics certainly expands the time for the use of data in the hands of cybercriminals. Facial detection or genetic and health data are stable, not to mention the poor security of data held by hospitals. Or we have to do with the widespread dissemination of genetic research, which will provide even more sensitive data to web swindlers.
According to some recent analyses carried out by the specialized laboratories for the Web, 56% of the data most used by web criminals comes from the victims’ personal data, while 44% of the data used by swindlers comes from financial news.
Moreover, specific types of credit cards, sold by geographical area, commercial type and issuing bank, can be bought in the dark web.
85% of them are credit cards accredited for a bank ceiling, while 15% of “customers” asks for debit cards.
The web scammers, however, always prefer e-mail addresses even to passwords.
Furthermore, less than 25% of the 40,000 dark web files have a single title.
In the “dark” web there are over 44,000 manuals for e-frauds, available for sale and often sold at very low prices.
The large and sometimes famous companies are the mainly affected ones. In 2018 the following companies were the target of cyberattacks in the United States: Dixus, a mobile phone company which was stolen 10 million files; the Cathay Pacific airline, with 9.4 million files removed, but also the Marriott’s hotel chain (500 million data/files removed) and finally Quora, a website of scientific documents and generic data. Over 45 million files were removed from Quora.
How can we know whether we are the target of an attack from the Dark Web? There is certainly the presence of ransomware, such as the recent Phobos, which uses the Remote Desktop Protocols (RDP) that allow to control computers remotely.
Then there is the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), which is a temporary block of the Web, apparently accidental, and finally there is the traditional malware, the “malicious” software that is used to disrupt the victims’ computer operations and collects the data present on their computers.
However, the Dark Web ambiguity between common crime and the defence of “human rights” and safe communications in “authoritarian regimes” always remains.
The United States, Iran, China and other countries have already created a “fourth army”, composed only of hackers, that operates with cyberattacks against the enemies’ defence and civilian networks.
The US Cyber Command, for example, is estimated to be composed of as many as 100,000 men and women, who operate 24 hours a day to hit enemy servers (and also allies’ ones, when they contain useful information).
Just think also of the private group Telecomix, which supported the 2011 Arab rebellions and, often, also the subsequent ones.
Also in these months both Telecomix and Anonymous are working to permit the free use of the Syrian computer network.
There is often an operative interface between these groups and the Intelligence Agencies, which often autonomously acquire data from private networks, which, however, soon become aware of the State operations.
There is also cyber-rebellion, which tries – often successfully – to strike at the victims’ data stored, by deleting them.
DDoS, the most frequent type of attack, often uses a program called Low Orbit Ion Cannot (LOIC) which allows a large number of connections to be established simultaneously, thus leading to fast saturation of the enemy server.
The attacking computers can be used remotely and some groups of hackers use thousands of computers simultaneously, called “zombie machines”, to hit the database in which they are interested to delete it or to remove its files.
This type of “fourth army” can inflict greater damage on a target country than a conventional armed attack. The faster the attack, the easier is to identify the origin of the operation.
It is currently estimated that the “zombie” computers in the world are over 250 million – a greater network than any other today present in the military, scientific and financial world.
Hence a very dangerous military threat to critical infrastructure or to the economic resources of any country, no matter how “advanced” it is technologically or in terms of military Defence.
There have been reports of hackers linked to global drug organizations, especially Mexican cartels, and to jihadist or fundamentalist terrorist groups.
Financial hacking, which often supports all these initiatives, remains fundamental.
The South Korean intelligence services’ operative Lim was found “suicidal” after having purchased a program from the Milanese Hacking Team.
A necessary tool for these operations is often a briefcase containing circuits which mimic the towers of cellular repeaters and store in the briefcase itself all the data which is transferred via cetel or via the Internet Network.
The Central Bank of Cyprus, the German CDU Party and many LinkedIn accounts – a particularly favourite target of hackers – some NATO websites and, in Italy, some business and financial consultancy companies were attacked in this way.
It is a completely new war logic, which must be analysed both at technical and operational levels and at theoretical and strategic levels.
Burning Planet: Climate Fires and Political Flame Wars Rage
Economic and political polarization will rise this year, as collaboration between world leaders, businesses and policy-makers is needed more than ever to stop severe threats to our climate, environment, public health and technology systems. This points to a clear need for a multistakeholder approach to mitigating risk at a time when the world cannot wait for the fog of geopolitical disorder to lift. These are the findings of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020, published today.
The report forecasts a year of increased domestic and international divisions and economic slowdown. Geopolitical turbulence is propelling us towards an “unsettled” unilateral world of great power rivalries at a time when business and government leaders must focus urgently on working together to tackle shared risks.
Over 750 global experts and decision-makers were asked to rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact and 78% said they expect “economic confrontations” and “domestic political polarization” to rise in 2020.
This would prove catastrophic, particularly for addressing urgent challenges like the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and record species decline. The report, produced in partnership with Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, points to a need for policy-makers to match targets for protecting the Earth with ones for boosting economies – and for companies to avoid the risks of potentially disastrous future losses by adjusting to science-based targets.
For the first time in the survey’s 10-year outlook, the top five global risks in terms of likelihood are all environmental. The report sounds the alarm on:
- Extreme weather events with major damage to property, infrastructure and loss of human life
- Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation by governments and businesses.
- Human-made environmental damage and disasters, including environmental crime, such as oil spills, and radioactive contamination.
- Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse (terrestrial or marine) with irreversible consequences for the environment, resulting in severely depleted resources for humankind as well as industries.
- Major natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and geomagnetic storms.
It adds that unless stakeholders adapt to “today’s epochal power-shift” and geopolitical turbulence – while still preparing for the future – time will run out to address some of the most pressing economic, environmental and technological challenges. This signals where action by business and policy-makers is most needed.
“The political landscape is polarized, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning. This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and reinvigorate our systems of cooperation, not just for short-term benefit but for tackling our deep-rooted risks,” said Borge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum.
The Global Risks Report is part of the Global Risks Initiative which brings stakeholders together to develop sustainable, integrated solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.
Systems-level thinking is required to confront looming geopolitical and environmental risks, and threats that may otherwise fall under the radar. This year’s report focuses explicitly on impacts from rising inequality, gaps in technology governance, and health systems under pressure.
John Drzik, Chairman of Marsh & McLennan Insights, said: “There is mounting pressure on companies from investors, regulators, customers, and employees to demonstrate their resilience to rising climate volatility. Scientific advances mean that climate risks can now be modeled with greater accuracy and incorporated into risk management and business plans. High profile events, like recent wildfires in Australia and California, are adding pressure on companies to take action on climate risk at a time when they also face greater geopolitical and cyber risk challenges.”
To younger generations, the state of the planet is even more alarming. The report highlights how risks are seen by those born after 1980. They ranked environmental risks higher than other respondents, in the short- and long- terms. Almost 90% of these respondents believe “extreme heat waves”, “destruction of ecosystems” and “health impacted by pollution” will be aggravated in 2020; compared to 77%, 76% and 67% respectively for other generations. They also believe that the impact from environmental risks by 2030 will be more catastrophic and more likely.
Human activity has already caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants – which underpin our food and health systems. Peter Giger, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group warned of the urgent need to adapt faster to avoid the worst and irreversible impacts of climate change and to do more to protect the planet’s biodiversity:
“Biologically diverse ecosystems capture vast amounts of carbon and provide massive economic benefits that are estimated at $33 trillion per year – the equivalent to the GDP of the US and China combined. It’s critical that companies and policy-makers move faster to transition to a low carbon economy and more sustainable business models. We are already seeing companies destroyed by failing to align their strategies to shifts in policy and customer preferences. Transitionary risks are real, and everyone must play their part to mitigate them. It’s not just an economic imperative, it is simply the right thing to do,” he said.
The Global Risks Report 2020 has been developed with the invaluable support of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Advisory Board. It also benefits from ongoing collaboration with its Strategic Partners Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group and its academic advisers at the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford), the National University of Singapore and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center (University of Pennsylvania).
Respondents were asked to assess: (1) the likelihood of a global risk occurring over the course of the next 10 years, and (2) the severity of its impact at a global level if it were to occur.
These are the top 5 risks by likelihood over the next 10 years:
- Extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, etc.)
- Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
- Major natural disasters (e.g. earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, geomagnetic storms)
- Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
- Human-made environmental damage and disasters
These are the top 5 risks by severity of impact over the next 10 years:
- Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
- Weapons of mass destruction
- Major iodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
- Extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, etc.)
- Water crises
Global risks are not isolated, and so respondents were asked to assess the interconnections between pairs of global risks.
These are the top most strongly connected global risks:
- Extreme weather events + failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
- Large-scale cyberattacks + breakdown of critical information infrastructure and networks
- High structural unemployment or underemployment + adverse consequences of technological advances
- Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse + failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
- Food crises + extreme weather events
Short-term risks: percentage of respondents who think a risk will increase in 2020:
- Economic confrontations = 78.5%
- Domestic political polarization = 78.4%
- Extreme heat waves = 77.1%
- Destruction of natural resource ecosystems = 76.2%
- Cyberattacks: infrastructure = 76.1%
Anti-Russian Ideology of Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi Groups: Causes and Consequences
Russia and Muhajireen are both interventionists in Syria
The Russian military intervention in the Syrian civil war has strengthened the anti-Russian ideological wave of the al-Qaeda-aligned Central Asian and North Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups fighting alongside the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) against the Bashar al-Assad regime. After the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, fueled by the Arab Spring protests, several hundred Central Asian Islamic radicals, calling themselves Muhajireen (Migrants, i.e. Sunni foreign fighters), performed a Hijrah (the migration of Muslims for Jihad) in response to the call of al-Qaeda to Syria.
Since then, Syria’s northwest Idlib province, long a hotbed of armed resistance and the heartland of al-Qaeda-linked operations has become a real-life shelter for Muhajireen from the former Soviet Union and Chinese Xinjiang. Among them, the Uzbek groups Katibat al-Tawhid wal Jihad (KTJ) and Katibat Imam al-Bukhari (KTB), Uighur fighters of Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), as well as Chechen’s Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) and Ajnad al Kavkaz (AK) are affiliated with al Qaeda. They share al Qaeda’s ideological doctrine and consider its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri their ideological mastermind. The activities of TIP and KTJ jihadists, which have remained loyal to al Qaeda but simultaneously subordinate to HTS, indicate that they have become a link between al Qaeda and HTS after their formal detachment of ties. That is, today they coordinate all their military operations in Syria and conduct them under the leadership of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the largest Sunni jihadist group, controlling most of Idlib province which is the last major opposition stronghold.
At the beginning of the Syrian jihad, the ideology of the Central Asian Salafi groups was not particularly distinguished by anti-Russian hostility but after the Russian invasion of Syria in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime in 2015, Central Asian jihadists and the Russian military found themselves on opposite sides of the front line and became sworn enemies. This was also facilitated by the fact that many Uzbek and Tajik Muhajireen came from Russia, where they worked as labor migrants and were often discriminated against by Russian nationalists. They also experienced moral and psychological humiliation by the corrupt Russian police, local officials and employers. Some Mujahideen admitted on the social networks Telegram and Odnoklassniki that the unfair Russian reality inflicted unbearable humiliation which contributed to their migration to Syria and joining jihadist groups.That is, the anti-Russian ideology of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups appeared not only because of the radicalization of their religious views but also as a response to discrimination by Russian nationalists and the invasion of Russian troops in Syria.Thus, over the past five years, al Qaeda’s Takfiri ideology of conducting global jihad against the infidel regimes of the West has been supplemented by the anti-Russian ideology of the Central Asian Muhajireen.
In order to better understand the roots and causes of the anti-Russian ideology of the Central Asian Sunni extremist movements, it is necessary to analyze the Khutbah preaching (Sermons) of their leaders and famous ideologists during Jumma Namaz (Muslim Friday Prayer Service), which they actively disseminate on the Internet in Uzbek, Russian, Tajik, Kyrgyz, and Arabic.
Characteristic features of the Muhajireen’s anti-Russian ideology
Over the past five years, Idlib has become not only the real-life shelter for Russian-Speaking foreign fighters but also the place of fueling the aggressive anti-Russian ideology of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups. It’s interesting to note that they are actively using the Russian entrepreneur Durov’s social networking Telegram channel to widely disseminate anti-Russian ideology. Central Asian Muhajireen have the radio station “Voice of Sham” which also has the website “www.muhajeer.com” and provides daily updates over ten channels on Telegram through which they praise holy Jihad and spread anti-Russian propaganda.
Leaders and ideologues of the Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups advance the idea that al-Qaeda’s global network needs more support from like-minded Muslims around the world, who are willing to help its jihad. Therefore, in order to catalyze support, mobilize the base, and expand awareness of the Syrian jihad, they are waging an active “anti-Russian ideological war” on the Internet. Jihadist websites are designed to entice, inform, and rally Russian-speaking Muslims to join in the fight to safeguard Islam in Syria.
The ideologues and propagandists of al Qaeda-linked Central Asian movements seek to use Moscow’s heavy hand to recruit new fighters and accumulate financial resources.Each time after the Russian aviation’s scorched-earth tactics and indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas in the province of Idlib, the anti-Russian ideology of Central Asian jihadists intensifies on the Internet.
KTJ former leader Abu Saloh (his real name Sirojiddin Mukhtarov), who possesses excellent oratory skills and deep knowledge of the Quran, is the fiery voice of the anti-Russian ideology. He urges his listeners to establish religiously pure communities governed by a strict Salafi reading of Sharia or Islamic law.He regards modern post-Soviet countries in Central Asia to be illegitimate and desires not only the overthrow of these states but the creation of a new theocratic state in their place that unites all Muslims and, ultimately, a global Islamic Caliphate.In his opinion, the ideal conditions for conducting jihad today arose precisely in Syria and the Muslim Ummah should achieve an inevitable victory over the enemies of Islam by which he means not only the West but also the Bashar al-Assad’s regime, its military and political patrons, Russia and Iran. Abu Saloh believes that the victory of the Ahlus Sunnah (Sunni Islam) begins precisely with the holy land of Sham, where the Prophet Muhammad and his Sahaba (companions) shed their blood to raise the banner of jihad.
In the last video published on December 26, 2019, on Telegram, entitled “Appeal from the Blessed Sham to the Muslim Ummah” he calls on Muslims of Central Asia and Russia to make financial donations for jihad. He argues that jihad can be done in the path of Allah against the infidels in three ways: by one’s life, wealth, and speech. If Central Asian migrant workers in Russia make financial donations to support jihad in Syria, then Allah will consider them as participants in holy jihad who have fulfilled their mission to the Almighty. Participation in the wealth jihad will atone for their sins before Allah on Judgment Day. Therefore, migrant workers are required to participate in the wealth jihad, even while in Russia, he said. He calls on Central Asian Muslims not to become slaves of Russian kafirs (infidel) and warns that jihad is an obligation of every Muslim and that any Muslim who denies its sanctity should be considered as a kufr (unbeliever in Allah).
It should be noted that Russia accused Abu Saloh of the terror attack on St. Petersburg’s metro in April 2017 and the Kyrgyz authorities blamed him for the attack on the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek on August 30, 2016.He and his Uzbek-speaking fighters from the Fergana Valley of Central Asia swore allegiance to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Another well-known ideologist of Central Asian jihadism and a vocal critic of Russian occupation of Sham is the KIB’s leader Abu Yusuf Muhojir. On January 3, 2020, he posted his video message on the KIB’s webpage on Telegram entitled “Appeal from the mountain range Jebel al-Turkman of Latakia.”He claims that only jihad can to protect the Islam Ummah from Russia’s and Iran’s oppressors and free our occupied land of the blessed Sham from the terrorists of the Nusayri regime (Alawites).Following the concepts of the militant Salafi ideology, Abu Yusuf Muhojir regards violent jihad as an obligation for all Muslims and seeks to engage in jihad in both Khorasan and Sham, where opportunities have arisen.Then he quotes the Quran’s Surah of Al-Ankabut (The Spider) in Arabic and says that Allah is testing Muslims in Sham, and that only jihad will help us to pass this test with dignity. In conclusion, he said neither America nor Russia can close the path of holy jihad since jihad is the path to Allah. If the Mujahideen get killed in the jihad, he affirms that Allah himself will guide them and admit them to Paradise. Furthermore, Uzbek militants ofKIB have sworn allegiance to the Taliban and are conducting jihad in both Syria and Afghanistan.On March 22, 2018, the US State Department designated KIB a global terrorist organizations.
The root of the Jihadists’ anti-Russian ideology
The so-called “media activists” (Faruk Shami, Muhammad Jazira, Gulyam Muhammad,Saad Muhtor, Abdul Aziz Kazanly) who live and work among the Central Asian jihadists in Syria play a significant role in increasing anti-Russian ideology. They organize live broadcasts, interviews with leaders of Central Asian and Caucasian Salafi-Jihadi groups on YouTube and Instagram, and translate theological works of al Qaeda’s ideologues from Arabic into Russian, Uzbek, Tajik, Kyrgyz and Uighur.
One of the channels called “Mujahideen of Sham” in Kyrgyz on the Telegram, for instance, published short information: “Russian kafirs, who were the enemies of our ancestors, bombed the city of Sarakib on December 21, 2019, as a result of which they were killed more 120 innocent Muslims of Sham.” Further, this channel posted an audio message from a Kyrgyz Muhajir to the Russian military: “Oh, Russian infidels, keep your eyes peeled, we are attacking to shed your blood. As you love vodka, Zina (illicit sexual relations), so we are in a hurry to die in the name of Allah to stop the kafirs’ invasion on Islamic lands.”
Al Qaeda-linked Central Asian jihadists sometimes use some historical events of the Russian colonial policy of the 18-19 centuries in Central Asia to rally support for the Islamist agenda and radicalize those sympathetic to the plight of Muslims in Syria. The same channel “Mujahideen of Sham” writes: “Russian Tsarist forces, which killed tens of thousands of Kyrgyz during the Genocide of 1916, today are massacring innocent Muslims of the blessed Sham. The colonial policy of the Russian Empire continues. Make dua (prayer) for Muslims of Sham.” It is probably about the ‘Urkun’ (“Exodus”) tragedy 1916, when 150 thousand Kyrgyz died during the uprising against Russian Tsarist forces and a mass exodus to China. Such information is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Central Asian jihadists who are familiar with historical events.
Translation of books, essays and videos of medieval and modern jihadi thinkers from Arabic into Russian and local languages and its distribution on the Telegram channel is an important part of the work of Central Asian jihadists. Spreading classic works of Salafi-Takfiri thinkers help legitimize anti-Russian Jihadi ideology and stoke the fire of jihad. Crucial spiritual nourishment for Central Asian Muhajireen are the essays of Ibn Taymiyyah, Abd al-Wahhab, Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, Sulayman al-ʿAlwān, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Qatada al-Filistini and other scholars of Salafism. This clearly indicates the ideological affinity of Central Asian Muhajireen with transnational Islamic fundamentalist groups that utilize sacred violence in their war against Russia and the West. Moreover, KTJ, KIB, and TIP explicitly try to define its ideological and operational agenda as being intimately tied to an integrated effort of al Qaeda aimed at asserting the global dominance of Islam through armed jihad.
Despite the fact that the Central Asian jihadists are seen as a small cog in the transnational Sunni-Jihadi network, they are actually drawing up and spreading anti-Russian ideology in the post-Soviet space and the Middle East alongside Chechen and Uighur jihadists. They are using pejorative terms in reference to Russia such as “Russian terrorists,” “Russian bandits,” “Russian pig executioners,” as well as pejoratives directed toward Vladimir Putin such as “Putin is a killer,” “Putin is a war criminal,” and “Slaves of Putin’s Chef Prigozhin,” as well a variety of generalized pejoratives comparing Russians to Fascists, swine and vermin.
The anti-Russian ideology of the Central Asian jihadists in Syria has gone far beyond the national and geographical framework and they are trying to create the image of Putin’s Russia as an enemy of the entire Muslim Ummah.The Russian military operation in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime, the destruction of hospitals, schools, and other social facilities in Idbil by Russian aircraft, the flow of refugees towards the Turkish borders, the deaths of hundreds of civilians, children and women from the bombing create a favorable background for strengthening the trend of anti-Russian ideology among the Muhajireen in Syria.
Muhajireen’s propagandists also skillfully manipulate the historical rivalry between Sunnis and Shia. The analysis showed that they consider the enemies of Ahl al-Sunna of all Nuseyrites, Rafidites and their ally Russian Crusaders. The Jihadi ideologists claim that Russia is a leading player in the global conspiracy to destroy Ahl al-Sunna in Sham, and therefore helps Nuseyrites. The call to defend the last stronghold of Ahl al-Sunna gives them the opportunity to recruit new militants from the Sunni population of Central Asia and Russia.
At the same time, some facts of atrocities and heinous crimes perpetrated by Russian mercenaries of the Wagner group and Iranian proxy militias in Syria, which became public knowledge, create spaces for promoting Central Asian Jihadi ideas. Recently, after a video appeared on the Internet in November 2019 in which four Russian mercenaries tortured, stabbed and beheaded a Syrian man, Russian President Putin has become the main target of criticism of Salafi-Jihadi agitators from the former Soviet countries. This gave Central Asian jihadists a reason to accuse Putin’s Russia of using terror policy against Islam and the Muslims of Sham.
In order to foment jihadist sentiments in the Russian speaking Eurasian region, Salafi-Jihadi ideologists are manipulating the strongman Putin’sphrase that “Syria has become a field for testing the latest Russian weapons systems.” They regularly publish victims’ photographs of Russian air bombing, which are intended to rally support for the Islamist agenda and radicalize those sympathetic to the plight of Sunni Muslims in northwest Syria. They wonder “how much longer will Putin’s terrorists be testing their weapons in Syria and using civilian Muslims as living targets?”
The Central Asian Muhajireen’s anti-Russian ideology and the aggressive imposition of global Jihadi ideas on the internet undoubtedly pose a threat to Russia’s national security but, at the same time, the major actors of the Syrian conflict, primarily Russia, Iran and the Syrian government must understand that further tightening the screws of the Syrian war, exacerbating the humanitarian catastrophe and a new mass influx of refugees, will lead to further strengthening of anti-Russian and anti-Shiite ideology. Because of this, Central Asian Jihadi groups, following the strategy of al Qaeda, are trying to infiltrate local Sunni communities of Syria, build influence there by expressing the interests of the Ansar (natives).
U.S. vs Iran, a Cybersecurity Update
The relationship between the United States and Iran has perhaps reached a very low levein in recent weeks, following the 1979 Khomenist Revolution and the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students.
According to American sources, on 20th June the United States launched offensive cyber-operations against Iranian intelligence computer systems, the same day that the US President, Donald J. Trump, had before ordered a military attack and then revoked the order before it actually left.
The United States Cyber Command – a department recently promoted by Trump as a unified combat command under the direction of the Department of Defense – allegedly attacked the computer systems used to control missile and rocket launches.
Such a cyberattack would have been the White House‘s response to the actions of the Iranian authorities who, the day before, had shot down an American spy drone – a Global Hawk produced by Northrop Grumman – as it was guilty of violating the airspace of the Islamic Republic.
After accusations and threats to each other, the US President decided to impose new sanctions on Iran and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That was not welcomed by the Government of Tehran, which spoke, earlier, of “end of diplomatic path with the United States” and announced that it had exceeded the uranium enrichment limit imposed by the JCPOA – Joint Comprehensive Plan of Iran Nuclear Deal – from which the United States unilaterally exited in May 2018.
It remains to be seen, therefore, after the escalation of the last few weeks, whether the United States will try to make more and more use of cyber-attacks to solve the delicate international issues, primarily the Iranian one.
After the cyber-space was recognized as a strategic domain by NATO in 2016, on par with land, water, sky and space, it has been increasingly seen that countries use this domain to plead their own interests and also to carry out operations – this new type of military activity should not come as a surprise, because you only have to look at the National Cyber Strategy, published in September 2019 by the US, which shows that there has been a paradigm shift from what was the protection of American interests in the cyber space, moving from a more classical deterrence to the purpose of defence to a more offensive deterrence.
The fact that this document was only published last September suggests that the field of cybersecurity is fundamentally new and still to be explored.
On the one hand, cybernetic space is a totally man-made space and where you can have very high levels of ambiguity, through non-identification strategies from where attacks start, on the other hand, it is one of the most unregulated space at the level of behaviour that all countries shoud adopt with the specifice the responsibilities in cyber-operations.
This is a field in which the international law must be adapted as it is vital to understand how international law applies to the cyber-space and to see how it can be applied in practice: there is a long-time discussion between experts in the United Nations about cyber-space and, moreover, you can conduct operations that may fall into the category of attacks that are below the threshold of the use of force. So, it is still unclear whether a cyber-attack can be responded to with a classic attack byusing any classic military tools.
That is why American cybersecurity policy has changed in recent years, starting with the different pillars on which the National Cyber Strategy is based:
1) defending the homeland by protecting networks, systems, functions and data;promote American prosperity by fostering a secure digital economy and promoting strong domestic innovation;
2) preserving peace and security by strengthening the ability of the United States – along with allies and partners – to deter and, if necessary, punish those who use cyber-tools for malicious purposes;
3) expansion of American influence abroad to extend the key principles of an open, reliable and secure Internet.
Within the cyber-space, the United States have adopted a so-called “continuous engagement” – an ongoing commitment to counter possible threats even before they can materialize through targeted attacks, with the transition from a defensive to an offensive approach, with the American presence in the cyber-space that will more and more increas in order to actively dissuade potential enemies.
Historically, the United States are not new to carrying out cyber-attacks on Iran, in fact, as early as 2010, the United States and Israel are believed to have spread a virus, created by the US Government, to slow down the process of enriching uranium in Iran’s nuclear power plants.
That cyber-attack of the United States against the Iranian intelligence unit is part of a context that has seen Washington’s intensifying cyber-operations also against Russia and Iran – it is important to be aware of the cybersecurity space for their own interests and that they have had a particularly aggressive posture in this area.
The United States and Iran are two of the world’s most advanced, active and capable hacking powers at a time when governments regularly use cyber-attacks to achieve important goals and shape geopolitics.
Tensions between the two countries and their allies have produced a long history of extraordinary cyber-attacks in addition to traditional kinetic warfare – for these reasons, Iran’s revenge for the killing of General Qassim Suleimani could also be served on the ground of cyber-war.
Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – CISA – of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, warned the entire community to re-investigate Tehran’s tactics, procedures and techniques in detail in cyberspace, after reporting the increase in the activity of malicious cyber-attacks directed against the American companies and government agencies.
The hackers of the Iranian regime have increasingly used destructive windshield wipers in order to spear phishing, email scam to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data – it is a hackerial attempt to decode a common user password across multiple accounts before switching to a second password that allows you to circumvent account lockouts.
This is an attack that leverages the likelihood that people can use the same username and password to access multiple applications, sites, and services – in fact, cyber-criminals are able to get the details of stolen accounts from a platform and implement the bots needed to log into many other accounts with the same credentials.
Once they have found a way to log in, the criminals will break the account by making fraudulent purchases or stealing confidential information – before the 2015 nuclear deal was negotiated between the United States, Iran, Europe, Russia and China, Iranian hackers regularly targeted American financial companies and critical infrastructure.
Over the past year, Iran and the United States have repeatedly targeted each other in hacking operations – Iranian government hackers have attempted to breach President Trump’s re-election campaign: in fact the U.S. Cyber Command reportedly warned against Iran’s paramilitary force attacks during a period of high tensions, earlier this year.
More than 150 American sites have already been victims of defacement by Iranian hackers also because of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had promised “a strong vengeance” for Suleimani’s killing – this is a modern conflict, to date not only threatened but it is a long-time a cyber war – in recent days, hackers of Tehran have hacked the website of the Federal Depository Library Program – FDLP – with a defacement operation, leaving a message stating that “this is only a small part of Iran’s cyber-capabilities.”
The attack targeted a “weak” target, but it is a sign that the Islamic Republic’s cyber-army has been activated to strike US-linked targets, any critical infrastructure in particular..
The U.S. cyber-army believe, in fact, that the attacks could take place in five ways:
– DDoS attacks, in which you flood a site with access requests and crash it.
– data deletion (or wiper attack), actions to delete data in infected databases.
– attacks on industrial control systems, information-related operations and as well as cyber espionage.
The latter two to steal data for use then in physical, military actions – for example, by committing targeted murders or attacks on infrastructure.
But the Islamic Republic could suffer from the American reaction far more damage than it could cause: it has already happened in the past, as confirmed by the head of the “cyber police” in Tehran, General Kamal Hadianfar, who admitted that Iran in 2017 suffered 296 serious cyber-attacks against paramount infrastructures and on several occasions some experts in the field were mysteriously dead.
In conclusion, after sanctions and threats on both sides, could we really lead to an escalation of cyber-attacks and, because of that, does it seem to be a new Cold War ?
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