Researcher: ISIS hackers not 'as capable as most cybercriminal groups'

Researcher: ISIS hackers not 'as capable as most cybercriminal groups'
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ISIS's cyber operations are not even as 'capable as many cybercriminal groups' and are far from the type of sophisticated threat countries face from other nations, according to new research.

Kyle Wilhoit, senior researcher at DomainTools, analyzed ISIS cyberattacks over the past two years. He presented his findings at this weekend's DerbyCon in Louisville, Kentucky.

"I started looking at [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] because I started to see media reports about their cyber capabilities and wanted to see how accurate they were," he told The Hill. 

"I thought they would be a lot better." 

ISIS's hacker corps have defaced a few websites, used rudimentary techniques to break into some web-facing databases and recently started to churn out its own malware. 

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However, notes Wilhoit, to security professionals, defacing websites is viewed as more akin to digital graffiti than a dangerous attack. Websites affected by the groups appear to be the easiest possible targets, ranging from the student union at the University of New Brunswick to local government sites, to WordPress blogs.

But while the defaced sites cause no additional damage, they can be very unnerving.

"Wake up freedom-loving Americans," Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel tweeted after the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections website was hacked "Radical Islam infiltrating the heartland."

Meanwhile, ISIS-created malware appears to be designed by making minimal changes to malware developed by other people.

"They are not as capable as many cybercriminal groups," Wilhoit said.

Wilhoit pegs ISIS's problem as an inability to recruit cybersecurity talent. 

He noted that was not a reason to become less vigilant — though he "wouldn't say ISIS has been getting better" over time, "they are getting more interested." 

ISIS only began its foray into malware half a year ago, he said, noting they still might be able to recruit the lacking talent.