The Wall Street Journal reports on the latest drone strike against international terrorist targets – one of many this month – but one that is unique because the target didn’t perpetrate terrorist acts in the “real world”. In fact this is perhaps the first time that a computer hacker has been the sole target of a military operation in history.

Junaid Hussain, a British citizen in his early 20s, had risen fast to become a chief in Islamic State’s electronic army. One person familiar with the matter said he hacked dozens of U.S. military personnel and published personal and financial details online, including those of a general, for others to exploit.

He helped sharpen the terror group’s defense against Western surveillance and built hacking tools to penetrate computer systems, said people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Hussain was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Tuesday while he was in a car in Raqqa, Syria, U.S. officials said. That he was targeted directly shows the extent to which digital warfare has upset the balance of power on the modern battlefield.

We’ve covered our belief in the increasing role that the digital battleground will play in future military conflicts. This drone strike shows that the military powers that be see the same shift – and are engaging “cyber” targets not only through digital counterstrikes, but through conventional ones as well. Though logical, the danger in this shift is the potential for false flag attacks to be carried out in the digital battlefield, where concealing one’s identity and source – or falsely taking on the identity of an enemy – is that much easier than in the conventional battlefield. World War 3 won’t start with an errant torpedo or “surprise” harbor bombing – it will start with a hack on critical infrastructure.

Want to know how infrastructure can be hacked? Read our assessment here.

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