This week, Pentagon officials began calling up retired generals to let them know that their home addresses, private e-mails and other personal information had appeared in a document that was publicized globally by a group claiming to support Islamic State.
The phone calls began after the Twitter and YouTube accounts of the U.S. military’s Central Command were briefly taken over by hackers who claimed to be part of IS. The Pentagon downplayed the hack, calling it “cyber-vandalism,” and stressed that the vandals did not penetrate any of the military’s classified information networks.
And while it’s true that the brief defacement of the Pentagon’s social media accounts was no great accomplishment in terms of cyber-warfare, the hack is actually a different kind of terrorist attack altogether: doxing.
The practice of doxing, or publishing people’s personal information online, is usually used to unmask hackers on Web forums or annoy figures in the news. It’s a way to deprive an online outlaw of his anonymity or a public figure of his or her privacy. In this case, the posting of the personal data of retired military officers is part of a different kind of strategy, to sow terror among men and women in uniform.
Indeed, the message could not have been clearer. One tweet read simply: “AMERICAN SOLDIERS, WE ARE COMING. WATCH YOUR BACK. ISIS.”