MINNEAPOLIS — A group of anonymous teen hackers traced a group of terrorists’ social media accounts to the British government, but further investigation revealed the accounts are actually tied to Saudi Arabia.
Calling themselves VandaSec, the group communicates primarily through social media and targets child predators online in addition to Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the group also known as the Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL). On Dec. 14, they told The Daily Mirror that they’d traced at least three Daesh Twitter accounts which they hacked back to IP addresses belonging to the Department of Work and Pensions, the division of the British government which administers unemployment and disability assistance.
Every computer or device on the Internet, from smartphones to Internet-enabled tea kettles, must be assigned a unique IP address, a string of numbers that helps other computers find it. The addresses are assigned in bulk by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to governments and Internet service providers on a massive scale.
Facing pressure from the media and the hacker group, the British government was later forced to admit that they’d sold these addresses to Saudi Arabia:
The Cabinet Office has now admitted to selling the IP addresses on to Saudi…
— Vanda (@VandaSec) December 15, 2015
On Dec. 15, a Cabinet Officer spokesperson told the Mirror that although the addresses were originally assigned to the government, they’d been sold to Internet service providers in both the United Kingdom and abroad, including Saudi Telecom and the Mobile Telecommunications Company, two Saudi Arabian ISPs where hackers traced the Twitter accounts operated by Daesh. The spokesperson added:
The government owns millions of unused IP addresses which we are selling to get a good return for hardworking taxpayers. We have sold a number of these addresses to telecoms companies both in the UK and internationally to allow their customers to connect to the internet. We think carefully about which companies we sell addresses to, but how their customers use this internet connection is beyond our control.
IP addresses are frequently resold as more and more Internet users, as well an ever-increasing number of Internet-enabled devices, try to get online. However, the link to Saudi Arabia is one more piece of evidence that the powerful Middle Eastern nation may be funding or otherwise supporting terrorism. On Dec. 7, German officials warned that Saudi Arabia must stop supporting Wahhabism, an extremist form of Islam that many believe is the inspiration for terrorist groups ranging from Daesh to al-Qaida.
Many other analysts have echoed these sentiments, including Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud in an opinion piece published last month by The New York Times. Daoud called the invasion of Iraq the “mother” of Daesh, then added:
But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.
Like the kingdom’s ties to the 9/11 attacks, Daoud warned that Saudi Arabia’s role in the rise of Daesh “risks being erased from our analyses and our consciences.”