Mar 9, 2015 · 1 minute

Hackers claiming affiliation with the Islamic State extremist group have defaced several websites belonging to small businesses in the United States and Europe. The FBI is said to be investigating the hacks, and at least one of the affected businesses has also hired an independent security researcher to suss out who was responsible.

Yet the consensus appears to be that Islamic State had nothing to do with the hacks. Vandalizing a Montana credit union probably isn't a priority for an extremist group actively fighting to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. Authorities suspect the websites were targeted by domestic hackers with no real affiliation to Islamic State.

So why would these digital pranksters vandalize small websites with a message declaring that they were "Hacked by Islamic State (ISIS)" and "We are everywhere" even though they're probably not actually connected to the group? Easy: so the FBI would waste their time and blog posts like this would be written about the hacks.

Islamic State is a hacker's wet dream. The organization is often praised for its tech savvy, so it's not outside the realm of possibility for it to vandalize websites. And it's not like the group is going to condemn someone for making sure its name stays in the news. The best scapegoat is the one that doesn't really mind being scapegoated.

It wouldn't be surprising if more hacks like this occurred with increasing frequency. Hacking a small-town website and vandalizing it with a random message might get the attention of a few hundred people. Doing the same thing and wallpapering the site with terrorist propaganda, however, can make an itty-bitty hack national news.

So here's a good rule of thumb: if a message on a local business' website says it was hacked by Islamic State, it was probably vandalized by someone closer to home. Make sure the business knows what's happened so it can fix the problem, then go on with your life knowing that terrorists have better things to do with their time.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]