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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began as a Jamaatal-Tawhidwa-l-Jihad (JTWJ) group founded in 1999 by Abu Musabal-Zarqawi. He was a Jordanian combatant who transformed and renamed the group to Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 and later into the Islamic State of Iraq in 2014. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi then proclaimed creating a Caliphate- a state that shall be governed following Sharia laws. To create this new State and become the leader, he demanded all the Muslims’ allegiance from across the world. Since its expansion peaked in 2015, ISIS began occupying and controlling significant areas of Iraq and Syria (BBC, 2015).

However, the organisation has presently has lost its grip in almost all of this territory. Since its creation, ISIS has used several methods to carry out terror attacks intending to cause physical harm, deaths, and, most importantly, fear. Attacks are generally carried out using improvised explosive devices, although other terrorism methods included assassinations, beheadings, torture, kidnappings, and suicide attacks. From June 2014 until February 2017, the self-proclaimed Islamic State had been the reason for conducting or inspiring over 140 terrorist attacks in 29 countries, excluding Iraq and Syria. It has resulted in the death of over 2,043 people, and thousands of others were injured (Lister et al., 2018).

In recent times, ISIS has now further diversified its methods to carry out attacks. In the past, the attacks only took place in the physical world. Now, the methods of attack have changed. ISIS has been engaging in “new terrorism” through the use of technology.

Technology, for a long, has been a very crucial part of our lives. Today, the use of technology has become an inextricable part of everyday life. Several transactions and activities are carried out on the Internet. Individuals, the public sector, and the private sector are significantly involved in the technology sector, leading to the developing cyberspace. The word “cyber” describes several notions such as the cyber-war, cyber-attack amongst many others (Bryant, 2001).

Since its inception, cyberspace has only been growing, allowing new means and a field of action to carry out activities that are both legal and illegal. For this very reason, the terrorists have subsequently increased their presence in cyberspace, resulting in a new form of international threat called “cyber terrorism.” The term was coined in the 1980s by Barry C. Collins. He defined it as a concept that involved the concept of both the physical and the virtual world. That was the beginning of a new area of research. Since then, there has been an increase in the research related to this field. There have been several changes in the field with time. Definitions are developed and redeveloped due to the evolution of information technology and cyberspace as a new field for terrorism. (Collin) 

It was al-Qaeda that started transforming cyberspace for defence capabilities. However, it was ISIS that pioneered cyberspace for terrorism-related activities. Several groups are either directly or indirectly linked to ISIS and have been responsible for many cyber-attacks to promote the organisation’s propaganda. Hence, the use of cyberspace for terrorism-related activities has been extensively pioneered by ISIS. It is indeed evident that the extremist organisation has used the cyber-space more intensely and methodologically than any other organisation in the past. While the physical attacks were mainly aimed at increasing the death toll, cyberspace is primarily used by ISIS to spread fear among the masses about its existence and cause terror and insecurity.

“Praise to Allah, today we extend on the land and the Internet. We send this message to America and Europe. We are the hackers of the Islamic State, and the electronic war has not yet begun” (Paganini, 2015)

It was a statement made by the cyber-extremists of ISIS, and they have already carried out several attacks that threatened several European countries. There are several members of ISIS who are technically sophisticated. They use their expertise to promote their ideology and culture by vandalising social media accounts, websites, and other media channels containing text, images, and videos that glorify ISIS’s agenda. (Scott & Spaniel, 2016) 

In this way, ISIS is now using cyberspace to cement its presence worldwide by targeting, recruiting, and radicalising new jihad members. Also, it can spread their beliefs and the ideology of the organisation. 

Apart from spreading the organisational outreach, ISIS uses another strategy that promotes “lone wolf” attacks through social media. It involves ordering the supporters to revolt against the non-believers. These issues are a cause of concern as these means are spreading rapidly, primarily when the network of hacking groups focuses on attacking the West by exerting cyber terrorism in ISIS’s name. With the keyboard warriors being their best, ISIS has combined the physical attacks with a series of cyberattacks. One such evident act by ISIS was the terror attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo followed by a series of attacks called “cyber terrorism” on over 19,000 French websites (Griffin A., 2015) 

Not only that, but there were websites as well such as Le Parisien, Marianne and several other newspapers that were defaced with only one motive – to show “ Death to Charlie” on these websites (Rawlinson, 2015).  

All these attacks were carried out in an organised manner by almost completely structures groups that are pro-jihadists (Hamill, 2015). These attacks allowed ISIS to enhance the European community’s insecurity that had already taken root through the Paris shooting in 2015, resulting in 12 victims (BBC, 2015).

Nonetheless, it is not just “cyber terrorism”, but instead a range of activities for which ISIS uses the Internet. So, it has become essential that the world prepare itself for this, as it will be the future of warfare.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies


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BBC. (2015, December 9). Paris attacks: What happened on the night. BBC News.

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Collin, B. C. (n.d.). The Future of CyberTerrorism: Where the Physical and Virtual Worlds Converge. The Future of CyberTerrorism.

Griffin, A. (2015, January 15). France has been hit by an unprecedented 19,000 cyberattacks since the Paris shootings. The Independent.

Hamill, J. (2015, January 20). Major French websites are being hit by cyberattack #CharlieHebdo. mirror.

Lister, T., Sanchez, R., Bixler, M., O’Key, S., Hogenmiller, M., & Tawfeeq, M. (2018, February 12). ISIS: 143 attacks in 29 countries have killed 2,043. CNN.

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Rawlinson, K. (2015, January 16). Charlie Hebdo: ‘Islamist cyber attacks’ hit France. BBC News.

Scott, J., & Spaniel, D. (2016, June 29). ICIT Briefing: The Anatomy of Cyber-Jihad.

By Apoorva Iyer

Apoorva Iyer holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Delhi University. She has published several articles and research papers on renowned websites and international journals. She has also worked in several think tanks and political and security risk consulting firms. Her interests lie in international relations and security studies.