It's not often we learn about the secret world of government-paid hackers, but when we do, it's fascinating to see how they they leave their mark. Yesterday, in a rare disclosure, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed details about the State Department's covert cyber war against jihadists to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Unlike previous reports where the Pentagon's U.S. Cyber Command shuts down sites or silently monitors them, the State Department is actively trying to manipulate online extremists.
In the latest example, Clinton said State Department cyber experts hacked Yemeni tribal websites and removed a bunch of Al Qaeda propaganda. So in lieu of postings bragging about killing Americans, online visitors were welcomed with a markedly different message:
“Within 48 hours, our team plastered the same sites with altered versions of the ads that showed the toll al-Qaeda attacks have taken on the Yemeni people,” Clinton said Wednesday.
In response, “Extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the Internet,” she said.
By the looks of it, the State Department hack sounds more like 4Chan-esque pranksterism than actual counter-propaganda. If you were a regular reader of jihad forum, would you be converted by a short-term hack of your favorite anti-American site? Probably not. Still, such efforts certainly don't fall outside the mainstream of cyber efforts in England, for example.