US national news outlets reported in early 2015 that ISIS had threatened spouses of United States services members over Twitter. A new report asserts that those attacks actually came from Russia.
Angela Ricketts was one US Military spouse who was threatened by CyberCaliphate. Photo: Michael Conroy (AP)
The Associated Press report includes five military spouses who were targeted on 10 February 2015, by a group purporting to be a hacking group tied to ISIS, the CyberCaliphate.
Angela Rickets, Lori Volkman, Ashley Broadway-Mack and Amy Bushatz - all respected writers and/or advocates for military issues - received messages addressed to them, variations of: "Bloody Valentine's Day! We know everything about you, your husband and your children. We're much closer than you can even imagine," AP reports.
A fifth woman, Liz Snell - who runs the charity Military Spouses for Strength - found out when she was at her US Marine husband's retirement ceremony that her organisation's Twitter account was hacked and was tweeting threats at her, the other targeted spouses and their families, and former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Less than a month before Snell was attacked, she was quoted in a CNN article about military families putting personal information on social media, in the wake of US Central Command being hacked by CyberCaliphate.
In the article, Snell was mostly undeterred. "I see being online as a way to stay honest, to stay healthy, to help," she told CNN. "I don't want that to be hurt because of some threats that are just some dumb hacker. I don't want to let them win that way."
Weeks later, Snell's story led another report from CNN about her and other spouses being targeted by CyberCaliphate. The article opens:
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.
Snell and the other spouses who were attacked suspected they were targeted for suggesting publicly that they weren't afraid of hackers who were associated with ISIS.
This week's AP report states that Snell and the other spouses actually didn't need to worry about ISIS-related hacks - because the real threat came from Russia. The news outlet reports that it has evidence linking the threats to Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear or APT28, the same group that reportedly interfered with the US election by hacking the Democratic National Committee's email system.
"Never in a million years did I think that it was the Russians," Ricketts told AP. "It feels so hilarious and insidious at the same time."
This is not the first time hackers calling themselves the CyberCaliphate have been linked to Russia. The group hacked French broadcast station TV5 Monde in April 2015, killing the signal and posting the CyberCaliphate logo on the station's website and Facebook page.
Investigations later proved that the attack most likely came from Russia.
The cyberattack stoked fear in the country, coming three months after ISIS-linked terrorists killed 12 people at the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo.