On March 15, the group known as Anonymous declared cyber war on the Donald Trump campaign.
Anonymous has been labeled by some as a virtual state, while others place the group under the hacktivists label. Either way in keeping with their normal process, the group posted a video on YouTube.
In it, the group called for their followers and loyalists to "Shut down [Trump's] websites" and to "research and expose what he doesn't want the public to know."
The Anonymous leader called on his loyalists to "dismantle his campaign" and "sabotage his brand." Finally, he declared "This is a total war!"
Those are strong words to be sure, and words that Anonymous intends to make sure become a reality. Some have estimated that the cyber technical capabilities of Anonymous rank up there with the top 10 countries around the world.
It appears Anonymous has called for the attacks, referred to as #OpTrump, to begin on April 1. Within hours the video was viewed nearly 900,000 times, with thumbs-up ratings beating thumbs-down by more than three to one.
Just how many people are part of Anonymous is unknown. Some researchers have stated that the hacktivist group is large and dispersed internationally to a great degree. As evidence, the researchers point to the over 22 million likes on just one of the many social media pages for the group. Clearly a formidable adversary.
Who's in charge?
Anonymous has launched dozens of cyberattack campaigns over the years. They have clearly demonstrated their ability to carry-out successful cyberattacks; and therefore the threat should be taken seriously. This is an attack against Donald Trump and his candidacy. Does that place this in the hands of the Secret Service? If the attacks target his online brand or the numerous systems in his hotels, does that put this in the hands of the FBI?
Another possibility is that the Trump organizations follow a path that a few firms have taken and defend themselves by launching counter-offensives.
What if Trump becomes the Republican nominee? Will Anonymous continue the cyber war? It is not just about Donald Trump. If they carry out their threat, this is an attack on the process the United States uses to elect those who govern the country. Does that move this to the hands of the Homeland Security Department?
Given the international nature of Anonymous and their attacks, as well as any counter-attack that might be launched, the U.S. State Department will have to be involved. What happens if Trump is elected president and Anonymous continues the cyberattacks? If so, that is an attack on the highest office in the land. Does that constitute an act of cyber war? After all, those are the words Anonymous used. That would surely place it in the hands of U.S. Cyber Command and the military.
We have entered new territory and there are so many questions that need answers fast. The executive branch, Strategic Command, Cyber Command, the Intelligence Community, FBI, Secret Service and others better be meeting right now to get ahead of this issue.