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Hackers often wreak havoc in protest of causes they are empathetic towards, but in the end usually do relatively little damage. They may cost a company or government resources, but they do not typically perpetuate the loss of human life. Judain Hussein and his involvement with ISIS and the Cyber Caliphate are far outside of the hacker narrative the world is accustom to. It’s a story straight out of a Hollywood movie plot complete with unexpected twists and an explosive ending. Several key elements of this story will be discussed below.

Roots:

Judain grew up at in the middle class suburb of Birmingham England. He was shy and unassuming in appearance though skilled far beyond his years with a computer. He was born a British national whose parents had come to the U.K. form Pakistan a generation before (2). His father was a successful businessman who ran a cab company (2). There was nothing particularly notable about his situation.

Judain was heavily involved with computers before he ever even became a teenager (2). He didn’t have much to say but he clearly found his voice when he was online. Gone was the shy fa├žade; boldness dripped from his actions when his fingers touched the computer keys. By the time he was 15 years old, he was in full swing. He was a member of several hacking group including Team Poison that defaced to websites and exposed private information of groups they wanted to target, which is typical of hacktivism (1).

Flash point:

Judain spent 6 months in in jail for publishing private information of the prime minister if the UK and his staff in 2011 (1) . No one knows for sure if this lead to an escalation in his ideology. Judain would later reveal that he became enraged as he did research online about various global conspiracies (2) which may have taken place just before and after his incarceration. It is clear he wasn’t planning on going back to prison. He was arrested again, and while out on bail he fled to Syria, where he quickly took the reins of ISIS cyber efforts (1).

Cyber caliphate:

Judain claimed to hack the US Military’s servers and published identities of soldiers and government officials (1). Whether he actually hacked into the servers or not remains a debate. He may have just slowly gathered the information online (1). It is also unknown whether he was the only member of the Cyber Caliphate or the leader of a group of hackers. What is clear is his role was not limited to hacking. Judain became heavily involved in recruiting and social media. He would regularly encourage and applaud attacks in non-Muslim countries. Given his profile and presence he inevitably climbed most wanted terrorists lists worldwide.

Rockstar Wife:

If being a British expat hacker weren’t enough media fodder, Judain’s marriage took his story to another level. He married Sally Jones, a brutish woman twice his age, who was a previous punk rock singer/guitarist (3). She wasn’t a silent partner when she came to join Judain. Sally was a vocal advocate and recruiter especially for European women. This was a marketing dream for ISIS. A blond, somewhat wealthy, punk rocker leaving the UK and coming to marry the young head of the Cyber Caliphate. This was a match almost too sensational to be real.

High Profile Ending:

Before his demise Judain was the 3rd highest target on the US terrorist hit list (1). His ending fell in line with the rest of his action movie narrative as he was killed out by a US drone strike in 2015 (3). This was an exclamation point to his story. Many hackers seek notoriety for their causes, Judain certainly drew attention to one that unlike most hackers, cost him his life. His wife Sally, who then became the White Widow, would suffer the same fate 2 years later (3).

Summary:

Judain’s story was one of unexpected turns. Fleeing to Syria and joining the world’s leading terrorist group left even those closest him baffled. Marrying a punk rocker twice his age helped create an unrivaled mystique. The US and its allies of course wanted to let the world know how such a story must end. If it were not for its likelihood to promote terrorism, the movie would’ve already been made. In the end, Judain the shy quiet kid was able to become the giant he never was at home in Birmingham.

For more articles like this check out Careers in Cybersecurity’s Hackers Series and their Blog!

Also, if catching people like Judain interests you maybe you should consider a career in cybersecurity. For the best resource to start this journey go to CareersinCybersecurity.com!

Reference:

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/28/world/middleeast/junaid-hussain-islamic-state-recruiter-killed.html
  2. https://ctc.usma.edu/british-hacker-became-islamic-states-chief-terror-cybercoach-profile-junaid-hussain/
  3. https://graziadaily.co.uk/life/in-the-news/sally-jones-killed-airstrike/