Last week, a collective of hackers joined global counter-terrorism efforts by availing their skills and efforts to hamper terrorist financing. The collective effort, dubbed #OpCharlieHebdo, was a rejoinder to the Charlie Hebdo attack; and the hackers planned to target banks, financial institutions, nations and wealthy individuals who finance terror organizations such as ISIL, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and Taliban among other jihadist organizations.
The puzzling aspect of this feat was the fact that a collective of amorphous groups of hackers was making sensitive decisions regarding the degree of compliance of financial institutions with counter-terrorism laws and regulations. This reveals the existence of gaps with regards to governments, banking institutions and financial firms enforcing laws and regulations against terrorist financing, thus leading a group of citizens to step in and attempt the remedy the situation.
Formal banking systems.
Terrorist organizations use formal banking system to transact business and receive funds. Cash from ransom payments and oil sales are processed through banks before reaching entities controlled by terror organizations. The efficiency of operational economics of terror groups is hinged on the utilization of formal bank systems to streamline economic logistics, business transactions, collection of revenues and transfer of funds.
Private financial institutions are usually the most implicated firms with regards to terrorism financing as the allure of easy and untaxed profit obscures their insight into financial ethics. To complicate matters, several nations have weak counter-terrorism financing and anti-money laundering standards thus allowing terror organizations to use their banking systems for operationalizing their activities.
It is an undeniable fact that most financial firms trivialize counter-terrorism financing regulations and laws thus exposing themselves to stealth exploitation by sophisticated terror networks and transnational organized crime entities. This failure was not lost to the hacker collective.
The hacker collective.
The hacker collective leveraged their competitive skills, global support, anonymity and ideological resources to identify and decipher terrorist financiers and their enablers. There are speculations that the hacker collective utilized digital trails in some instances to link terrorist financing to specific individuals and firms.
An interesting aspect of #OpCharlieHebdo is that the hacker collective did not target money laundering. It is quite probable that they reached this conclusion because terrorist financing directly kills people, destabilizes nations and endangers democracy while money laundering does not (at least not directly).
OpCharlieHebdo has placed banks and related financial firms in a quagmire. Most, if not all, banks feature more than one networked service – such as online payment processor and electronic cash transfer – and the realization that hackers engaged in counter-terrorist financing campaign can hack into their servers and either take it offline or download and expose confidential data unsettles and horrifies the banking establishment. Moreover, this deed makes the implicated banks accountable to the public for its misdeeds of financing and facilitating terrorism, and this results in the public losing confidence in such banks.
Notice to Saudi banks.
Up to now, #OpCharlieHebdo has taken offline 80 ISIL-affiliated websites and several other websites belonging to the governments of Turkey, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria.
They have not yet attacked any banking site but have given notice to several Saudi banks and other international banks which operate in Saudi Arabia such as JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and HSBC.
Intelligence agencies warn…
Though the effort of #OpCharlieHebdo is commendable, intelligence agencies warn that such cyber-vigilante justice is likely to compromise national financial systems because hackers can infiltrate critical financial infrastructure and coupled with their inexperience in the operations and interpretations of counter-terrorism laws; culpably make the wrong judgment calls thus devastating national financial operations.
However, #OpCharlieHebdo has proven that for the rule of law to work; everyone must play by the set rules, hackers and banks notwithstanding.