The Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group has developed a reputation for teaching its recruits well how to use the internet to plan terrorist attacks and spread their jihadi message. In an alarming development, NBC News reports that now ISIS is boasting a 24-hour “help desk” to teach jihadis how to send encrypted messages out of sight of law enforcement.
“They’ve developed a series of different platforms in which they can train one another on digital security to avoid intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the explicit purpose of recruitment, propaganda and operational planning,” according to Aaron F. Brantly, a counterterrorism analyst at a West Point terrorism research center. He adds that, in addition to operators waiting on the line to help jihadis learn how to mask their messages from potentially being seen by police, they have opened a YouTube channel to answer frequently asked questions about privacy online. “Imagine you have a problem and need to solve it and go to YouTube,” he explains, “they have essentially established the same mechanism [for terrorism].”
There appear to be operators standing by to help jihadis worldwide, though it is not known whether any of the terrorist technicians have expertise in avoiding the law enforcement of any one country. Analysts working with the U.S. Army tell NBC that there are “a half-dozen senior operatives” working 24 hours to ensure recruits can freely discuss plotting terrorist attacks without any government’s intervention.
Islamic State official media has previously released a social media guide for those operating on Facebook and Twitter, hoping to attract more people to their ideology. The guide teaches new users how to attract and keep new followers and ensure the most people possible see jihadi messages through hashtags.
The “help desk” has surfaced just as ISIS is facing a new, unforeseen obstacle in its conquest of the internet: the hacker collective Anonymous. Anonymous members have taken down over 5,500 ISIS-affiliated social media accounts and websites within the past 48 hours as a response to the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. In response, an ISIS-affiliated account on the communications app Telegram released a list of tips for jihadis trying to use social media while avoiding the wrath of Anonymous. The list, published by an account called “Khalifah News,” reads:
Don’t open any links unless sure of the source.
Change Internet Protocol addresses “constantly.”
Do not talk to people you do not know on Telegram.
Do not talk to people on Twitter direct messaging.
Do not make the same email as your username on Twitter.
Telegram, an app released by the creators of the Russian social network VKontakte, has become “the new hot thing among jihadists,” according to an expert speaking to CNN. While terrorists associated with the Islamic State have long used the similar app Whatsapp to communicate internationally and, especially, recruit Western slave brides for their jihadis, Whatsapp has reacted to this practice by increasing its security measures against terrorist activities. Whatsapp is now owned by Facebook.
Thus, ISIS jihadists have turned to Telegram, which CNN notes is one of many apps that have been developed as “a reaction to the revelations in the Edward Snowden leaks about the NSA’s oversight of private communications.” Multiple security officials have confirmed that Islamic State jihadis, too, have studied the Edward Snowden leaks and modified their encryption capacity to keep Western governments out.
Currently, CNN reports, ISIS officials post up to 20 messages a day on the official ISIS Telegram channel. Telegram has become so popular among Islamic State fans that the organization recently released a new set of jihad-themed emojis to use on the app. The emojis include ISIS flags, beheading images, and animated people being burned alive.
Telegram creator Pavel Durov issued a statement following the Paris attacks in which he said, “I think the French government is as responsible as ISIS for this, because it is their policies and carelessness which eventually led to the tragedy.”
Law enforcement around the world are now trying to find as many avenues as possible in which jihadis may be communicating. A report this week suggested that the Paris terrorists may have even communicated through video games played in the Playstation 4 console, though these reports appear to be backed only by some public speculation on the part of investigators and is not confirmed.