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Russian hackers pose as ISIS and send death threats to US military wives

Hackers (Wikimedia Commons/Released)
May 08, 2018

Five U.S. military wives received death threats from Russian hackers posing as members of ISIS, ABC News reported on Tuesday.

The Russian hackers, the so-called “CyberCaliphate,” are believed to be of the same group that intervened in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and exposed the emails of John Podesta, former White House chief of staff under then-President Bill Clinton and chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

Angela Rickets received a death threat through a Facebook message from an unknown contact on Feb. 10, 2015.

“Dear Angela! Bloody Valentine’s Day,” the message read. “We know everything about you, your husband and your children. We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

The perpetrators claimed they were Islamic State militants, and had penetrated her computer and her phone.

Lori Volkman, a well-known blogger who wrote about her husband’s deployment in the Middle East, received a similar message on the same day.

Ashley Broadway-Mack and Amy Bushatz, also wives of military men and active in military and veterans’ affairs, received death threats, as well.

“Military families are prepared to deal with violence that’s directed toward our soldiers,” Volkman said. “But having it directed toward us is just completely new ground.”

While most of the women were on the receiving end of anonymous Facebook messages, Liz Snell, the wife of a U.S. Marine, received a phone call stating that her charity, Military Spouses of Strength, had been compromised.

The charity’s Twitter account was hacked and had been broadcasting public threats to her personal accounts, the accounts of other military wives, and ultimately then-First Lady Michelle Obama.

The hackers claimed to be CyberCaliphate, a self-identifying “digital army” of the Islamic State.

The Associated Press eventually found evidence that the women were not targeted by members of ISIS, but instead by Russian hackers.

Different hacking groups regularly assume one another’s identity to disrupt investigations, but the execution of the campaign was similar to the Russian trolls that perpetuated disinformation campaigns during the 2016 U.S. election.

“Never in a million years did I think that it was the Russians,” Ricketts said. “It feels so hilarious and insidious at the same time.”

The purpose of the threats, the Associated Press found, was likely to perpetuate the fear of ISIS in the U.S.

The Russian trolls during the 2016 election spread similar messages on social media, including false rumors about an Islamic State attack in Louisiana and a counterfeit video showing a U.S. soldier shooting a Quran.

Although it is difficult to prove that the messages the military wives received came from the same group, the objective was all the same.

“Fear is exactly what — at the time — we perceived ISIS wanted from military families,” Volkman said.

Originally, U.S. media ran a story that ISIS was targeting these women, which ultimately accomplished the hackers’ goal.

“Not only did we play right into their hands by freaking out, but the media played right into it,” Ricketts said. “We reacted in a way that was probably exactly what they were hoping for.”