Hackers claiming to be affiliated with Islamic State militants hacked into the Twitter and YouTube accounts of U.S. Central Command on Monday, posting warnings to American troops and their families, as well as what appear to be rosters with military personnel’s street and email addresses and phone numbers.
Although embarrassing for the Pentagon, Monday’s hack was more of a propaganda coup than a major security breach. An initial assessment by CENTCOM showed that no classified information was posted and no operational military networks were compromised, the statement said.
“We are viewing this purely as a case of cybervandalism,” CENTCOM said in a statement.
The hackers seized the Twitter account @CENTCOM about 12:30 p.m. EST, replacing its profile photo and background image with the black and white picture of a masked militant and the words “CyberCaliphate” and “i love you ISIS.”
Before Twitter suspended the account 45 minutes later, hackers published a series of threatening tweets with links to zip files and images that appeared to contain troops’ names and contact information.
“While the U.S. and its satellite networks kill our brothers in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, we broke into your networks and personal devices and know everything about you,” said one tweet from the hackers.
CENTCOM’s YouTube account was hacked at the same time. Two pro-Islamic State videos were posted on the channel next to official videos of airstrikes against the group in Syria and Iraq. The videos bore the insignia of al Hayat Media Center, the Islamic State’s propaganda arm. They stayed on the YouTube site for nearly an hour before they were taken down by 1:30 p.m.
One video was titled “Flames of War” and the other “O Soldiers of Truth Go Forth.” The latter showed scenes of armed Islamic State fighters, accompanied by the lyrics of an anti-Semitic song.
A Pentagon spokeswoman confirmed that the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts were compromised Monday.
“We are taking appropriate measures to address the matter,” said Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith. “I have no further information to provide at this time.”
There was no proof Monday that the hack was committed by the Islamic State, the extremist group that controls large swaths of Iraq and Syria.
In addition to leading an international air campaign against the Islamic State, the United States has deployed military advisers to help Iraqi security forces regain lost territory.
Monday’s hacking incident came on the heels of terrorist attacks in France last week by two brothers who claimed backing by al Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen and a third radical who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Solid evidence has yet to emerge that either group was directly involved in the violence, which killed 17 people. Even so, the deadly attacks in France have heightened fears about so-called “lone wolf” operations carried out by individuals who sympathize with radical Islamist groups.
Among those whose information was posted Monday by the hackers on Twitter was Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose office address and contact details were included in a roster tweeted by the hackers.
Lt. Col. Alayne Conway, a spokeswoman for Army Public Affairs, said efforts were underway to determine whether the personal information the hackers Tweeted came from password-protected websites.
“If it was personal information, that’s not something that we put on public websites,” she said.
In its statement Monday, CENTCOM said it had notified military and law enforcement authorities “about the potential release of personally identifiable information.”
CENTCOM officials “will take appropriate steps to ensure any individuals potentially affected are notified as quickly as possible,” the statement said.
The hackers also posted maps reportedly showing missile locations and notes labeled “Korean Scenarios” and “China Scenarios.”
The maps are not classified, however. They are available on the websites of the Federation of American Scientists and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research center.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing Monday that the administration took the hacking very seriously.
But he added a “note of caution,” saying there is a “pretty significant difference between what is a large data breach and the hacking of a Twitter account.”
The hackers said the so-called “CyberJihad” is intended as a message to American soldiers to watch their backs.
“ISIS is already here, we are in your PCs, in each military base,” the hackers tweeted. “We won’t stop! We know everything about you, your wives and children.”
The day before the hack, Dempsey said in an interview on “ Fox News Sunday” that while the U.S. military enjoys a significant military advantage, “we have peer competitors” in cyberwarfare.
“Cyber can be incredibly destructive,” Dempsey said. “We don’t have an advantage. It’s a level playing field and that makes this chairman very uncomfortable.”
The hack coincided with the President Barack Obama’s speech on cybersecurity at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, in which he promoted his plan to protect the online privacy of consumers and students.