The Emergence Of Cyber Caliphate And The Quest For Nigerian Army Cyber Command

Decades ago, it was unheard of that a Nigerian would at any time wrap himself or herself with an explosive to commit suicide in an attempt to kill other people. One could easily imagine economic instability as a result of a long life span of corruption and ethno-religious crisis but not trends of suicide bombers and insurgency. Sometime in July 2014, Former President Goodluck Jonathan disclosed that the intensity of the Boko Haram crisis in the North East caught his administration and the security agencies unaware. The unfortunate reality is that there is a new type of terror that is looming spontaneously around the world; more sophisticated and can cause exponentially more damage than Boko Haram terrorists have done. A director of the FBI in 2013 said he expects cyber threats to surpass the terrorism threat that nations will face in the years to come.

Cyber Caliphates are group of Islamic State Hacking Division made up of, a self-identified digital army for the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). Basically, the idea was of an enormous Islamic state intended to encompass all Muslims worldwide to conquer the whole world for the extreme long term, they are also a group of jihadists that appears to be struggling to advance much beyond its swathe of northern Syria and Iraq.

Lawrence of Arabia showing German planes bombarding a rebel camp and Prince Feisal on a white horse chasing the planes with sword in his hands.

A quick recap on a scene in a 1962 movie titled Lawrence of Arabia shows German planes bombarding a rebel camp and Prince Feisal as the antagonist actor on a white horse chasing the planes with a sword in his hands. The losses of having horses against airplanes are synonymous to any nation that wants to defend itself against a threat that is higher than its military capabilities. The 21st century technological breakthroughs have unwrapped vast opportunities for untold wealth and in the same vain it has also unleashed new risks for individuals, firms and nations.

For all intent and purposes, military warfare and operations are becoming dependent on digital assets, thus the emergence of cyberspace as the fifth dimension to military warfare after land, sea, air and space. These have given birth to the spontaneous emergence of a Cyber Caliphate in all corners of the world, pledging allegiance to ISIL and its operatives as far as in 2014. The Al Baghdadi’s Hack Section being the new attack unit now join the already existing sub-divisions that make up the United Cyber Caliphate; Comprising of ‘Ghost Caliphate Section’, ‘Sons Caliphate Army’, ‘Cyber Caliphate Army’ and ‘Kalachnikv E-security team. The ‘United Cyber Caliphate’ has continued to launch attacks as far back as 2016 and are presently on a 5th-dimensional warfare surge in cyberspace with operational code name #OPTHEWORLD, these campaigns are frequently publicised on their Telegram channels and other social media accounts.

Like the battlefield, military equipment like armored tanks, bomber aircraft and heavy artillery may no longer be the ultimate for victory in future wars. The battlefield is evolving to cyberspace where strategy, keyboards, programs and gleaming computer screens will form the ultimate wherewithal for victory in a future war. The enemy is not ignorant of these innovations knowing the nearly zero risk involved in this kind of warfare which tends to paralyze command and control systems, and interfere with the operation of weapons even without being detected. This, to me, cannot be said to be conventional; in fact it is an electronic form of Guerrilla warfare thus the emergence of the Cyber Caliphate.

A former United States Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper stated that over 30 Countries of the world are advancing their military capability in both offensive and defensive cyber security approaches and top of those countries is Russia. Some of these advancements are in form of policy formulation, the purchase of requisite computer hardware and software and others are in research and human resource development.

A clear example of some of this offensive approach is the Israeli strike on a Syrian nuclear reactor at Al-Kubar facility near Deir al-Zor in 2007. The Israeli Air Force entered Syrian airspace, bombed some nuclear reactors, and left the Syrian airspace undetected.

This was accomplished with a cyber-attack that tricked the Syrian air defense system into thinking nothing unusual was happening while the attack was being carried out. In doing this, Israel increased the chances of success in its mission and the security of its pilots. Such strategy could also be useful during a protracted war, as a means to conduct sneak attacks and ambushes.

In June 2016, the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff (COAS), LT Gen TY Buratai stated that, the “Boko Haram terrorist group has been defeated on ground, but their remnants has migrated to the internet” from the point of a chief foot soldier, this is correct and from the point of a cyber-security analyst this is also correct!!

It would be recalled that, before the COAS’s statement, it was on news that the son of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammad Lawal Uwais was radicalized and recruited, thereafter he eloped to join ISIS in Syria. If high-profile individuals do not escape Islamic radicalization on social media, what happens to the millions of unemployed Nigerian youth? Within this period, Nigerian cyberspace witnessed several confrontations ranging from the Boko Haram sect leveraging on social media to get media attention/recruitment, to the defacing of the Defence Headquarters website in a period of war and the hacking of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) website on a presidential election day.

Another algorithm to prove the COAS’ statement is the Abu Musab al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram terrorists which in my opinion is the only fighting force of the sect, sprout mainly as the result of social media proliferation. These operatives are found within the fringes of Lake Chad and are made up of machinery with special skills in designs of Improvise Explosive Devices (IED) thus the Nigerian Army professionally designed a military operation code-named Operation LAST HOLD aimed at totally defeating this faction, demining the regions affected with IED and facilitate the relocation of Internally Displaced Persons to their ancestral home. A former Director, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), James Comey admitted that his agency did not have capabilities to limit ISIL attempts to recruit Americans through social media. This has proven to be the same in Nigerian cyberspace but the effect could be reduced by having a robust defence cyber security outfit. The Nigerian Army with the help of the Defence Space Administration (DSA) could set up the Nigerian Army Cyber Command which it’s sole responsibility will be to monitor, prevent and respond to any form of Cyber warfare targeting Nigerian cyberspace.

The enactment of the Nigerian cybercrime bill and the establishment of the DSA who’s mission statement is to support the armed forces of Nigeria and other security agencies with relevant space products and solutions necessary for the conduct of operations in peace and wartime in line with the national space policy and program are steps in the right direction and the defence need not relent efforts.

On 25 June 2018, a Federal jury in Alexandria, United States convicted a former CIA officer on espionage charges relating to his transmission of classified documents to some agents of the People’s Republic of China. This helped the Chinese government steal massive amounts of highly classified information thus compromising the US Navy undersea warfare, including her secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for the U.S. submarines in 2020, From the view of an ethical hacker, there’s no successful hack without contact from an insider (System vulnerability), either physical or via privileged information. Most of the Nigerian government information database is being manned and administered by private firms whose staffs are not vetted to handle information on national security as a matter of urgency, the Defence Space Administration when robustly equipped with material, human resources and requisite policy on defense cyber security strategy, could take over the administration of all government information system, this they can, in due time harmonize to give the country a robust central database, whereby other private firm will be given certain administrative privileges. This is possible and it’s not rocket science as it will improve transparency and accountability in government, same time enhance national security.

The popular saying that a country that prepares for war in peacetime will bleed less at the actual time of war is not a wrong notion. The fight against Boko Haram could have been won a long time ago if counter-terrorism/insurgency operation training had been integrated into the military training earlier before the emergence of the sect. It was in this regard that the US Government pitched $14 Billion in cyber security spending for fiscal year 2016 across all its agencies. This budget keeps increasing year after year; there is only a high probability of impending global catastrophe as a result of cyber-related offenses that could lead to the US to such investment strides in the US.

Therefore, It is pertinent for the Nigerian government to take charge and make significant investments in Defence cyber capability by equipping the DSA being the already existing defense outfit with both material and human resources which will in turn train and ensure the establishment of a Cyber Command for the Military and other Stakeholders to further monitor and secure the Nigerian Cyber Space as this will enhance national security.

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