Centcom Accounts Hacked: Just Another Inconvenience for Pentagon or Harbinger of Big War?

Strategic Culture

On January 12, the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the US military command were suspended for a few hours after being hacked by a group claiming to back Islamic State. The United States Central Command (US Centcom or Centcom) is a theatre – level Unified Combatant Command of the US Department of Defense with the area of responsibility to include the countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. The Centcom forces are striking the positions of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. 

On the one hand, it’s just another battle of the cyberwar waged by the United States to become a factor of the contemporary international situation. On the other hand, the episode has specific features to make it stand out among other events of this kind. 

It’s not an easy walk to hack the accounts of US state agencies, especially the Department of Defense, which allocates billions for enhanced cyber defense. Whatever it is – phishing or imperfect defense – the fact is that a US state structure went under a successful attack. The jihadists accomplished the mission… «Centcom’s operation military networks were not compromised and there was no operational impact to U.S. Central Command», a military statement said. «Centcom will restore service to its Twitter and YouTube accounts as quickly as possible. We are viewing this purely as a case of cybervandalism.» Then very fact that the Islamic State launched the attack demonstrates the organization’s enhanced cyber warfare capability. The attack occurred exactly at the time President Obama delivered a speech devoted to the US cyber defense and the terrorist acts in France. Actually the action was kind of response to the West’s reaction on the attack against weekly Charlie Hebdo. 

As yet it’s not clear what damage was inflicted. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US is looking into the Centcom hacking. «This is little more than a prank or vandalism. It’s inconvenient and it’s an annoyance. But that’s all it is», said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. «It in no way compromises our operations in any way shape or form.» True, there is no compromise if military passwords and other security for such public websites are adequate. But there is a reason to doubt it as Islamic State tweets came shortly after U.S. Central Command posted its own information. The hackers titled the Central Command Twitter page «CyberCaliphate» with an underline that said «i love you isis.» And the broader message referred to the ongoing airstrikes against the Islamic State. It’s not known what exactly the Islamic State got hold of. Centcom officials say the posted information was not taken from the command’s servers. The Pentagon appears to be urgently assessing the inflicted damage. 

Experts say the posts don’t reveal any access to highly classified information as it was all taken from open sources. But today being classified and being important could be different things. 

The command will notify Defense Department and law enforcement authorities about the release of personally identifiable information. What’s more important – a variety of maps and diagrams were also posted by the hackers. They showed maritime defenses on the Chinese coast. There were also maps of North Korea showing population centers, nuclear installations and missile sites, as well as the dislocation of US forces in the region. 

It can be considered as a proof of the US preparations for a big war with China. At least the US does not exclude such a scenario. It has gone enough to make military use computers without adequate protection for storing the detailed information on plans to wage a potential war against China. 

The talks about a big war to take place soon have been circulating for a long time. Perhaps events in Ukraine prompt the main initiator of military stand – off to become more resolute in its actions. Dragging the states of Eurasia and Europe into a big fire smouldering in Ukraine is part of this strategy. China consistently takes a neutral position to let know that it has no intention to be embroiled in the conflicts to make it weaker. Meanwhile the United States prepares for decisive actions. 

The recent «color revolutions» that set the whole regions on fire (first North Africa and then Ukraine), an attempt to make «implode» Turkey, the war in Syria and the sudden expansion of the Islamic State, the terrorist attack in France and the nationalist groups and religious radicals gaining strength in Europe – all these factors make a big war loom on horizon. 

The United States is applying efforts to ensure clear superiority in the future battle. Even such relatively insignificant actions like hacking an ordinary account of the US Defense Department provides an insight on what kind of warfare it is going to be, what missions are to be carried out and what objectives are going to be set. 

Strategic Culture