One big difference between the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda can be found in the former’s name. It’s a state that holds territory in a real place, whereas Al-Qaeda operates as a loosely organized network of cells in different places around the globe. The scattered and secret nature of Al-Qaeda is one quality that makes it a formidable enemy — it’s hard to strike what you can’t see. The hacktivist group Anonymous, which has pledged to hobble ISIS after the recent Paris terrorist attacks, operates with a structure far more like Al-Qaeda than ISIS — Anonymous is a dispersed collective of hackers in what could be called cells.
That gives Anonymous an advantage in fighting its battles. Anonymous can strike ISIS communication channels and remain elusive, unable to be targeted in return by ISIS. Anonymous claims that “more than 3,824 Twitter accounts pro-ISIS are now down.” (Anonymous also claims to have disabled thousands more accounts before the Paris attacks, so it’s not clear this aspect of its strategy significantly hobbles the enemy, alas.) But what Anonymous really brings to its self-declared war against ISIS is that, like Al-Qaeda, Anonymous operates outside the law, untethered to any government. That means it also operates unrestricted by any international prohibitions that France or its allies have pledged to abide. Anonymous can do what it wants — or at least what it can. If Anonymous’ targeting of propaganda-spewing Twitter accounts doesn’t immediately hinder the coordination of attacks, it can slow recruitment. Anonymous has pledged to target ISIS funding operations, too. An effective two-pronged hack attack on funding and recruitment will hurt any organization.