Hackers apparently from the Islamic State gained control of two social media accounts of the U.S. military on Monday.
The YouTube and Twitter accounts of the U.S. military Central Command (Centcom) were compromised for 40 minutes until the accounts were suspended.
The hackers managed to post two propaganda videos on Centcom’s YouTube account as well as tweet multiple threatening messages from Centcom’s Twitter account. All the information released was publicly available as no classified – or even non-classified internal information – is passed on the social media account of Centcom.
However, previously available military documents were published as well as contact information, including street addresses of senior military personnel, the personal postal address at the Pentagon of the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
Other information included maps and diagrams of various military interests – one showed defenses on the coast of China, another showed maps of population centers, nuclear and missile sites in North Korea – information all readily available from many U.S. think tanks.
The BBC reported that the some of the maps and diagrams posted were most likely obtained from slides used in a presentation at the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The messages posted by the group identifying itself as ISIS (another name for the Islamic State) ominously proclaimed, “In the name of Allah, the most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the CyberCaliphate continues its CyberJihad.”
Other messages included, “We won’t stop! We know everything about you, your wives and children;” “AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING, WATCH YOUR BACK;” and “Pentagon Networks Hacked! China Scenarios.” (To see the posts, watch video below.)
Speaking to the media about their upcoming coverage of the incident, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said to the reporters to remember that, “There is a pretty significant difference between what is a large data breach and the hacking of a Twitter account.”
And experts agreed with that assessment. Professor Alan Woodward, from the University of Surrey, said that the hack was not a major breach of security. "I wouldn't say it's trivial, but it's just a slip," he told the BBC. "Twitter accounts are usually looked after by an individual in an organization – it's very easy to give away that password.”
However, Woodward said, "In terms of if this is a hack into something secret, or sensitive – no, it's not. An individual has made a slight mistake."
Perhaps one the worst aspects of this “slight mistake” was the fact that the hack came at the same time that U.S. President Barack Obama was making a speech about a new program to protect the internet from cyber attacks.
In light of the hacking attack into Sony Pictures computer systems, Obama commented that the hack showed the U.S. the "enormous vulnerabilities for us as a nation and for our economy."
Speaking to the Washington Post, Peter Singer, a strategist and analyst with the New American Foundation in Washington, agreed that no military secrets had been compromised. “Essentially what they did is for several minutes take control of the megaphone.”
However, Singer noted that Islamic State supporters were able to embarrass the U.S. government, which “is a feather in their cap in terms of pulling off something that other groups have not been able to do, no matter how silly it is at the end of the day.”