Islamic State Creates Its Own Secure Messaging App

Islamic State fighters

Islamic State supporters have explored a variety of social media tools for distributing propaganda and coordinating their efforts, most recently the Telegram app — whose owners originally refused to take action against ISIS accounts because they wanted their platform totally free of government interference but changed their stance after the Paris massacre and began blocking ISIS-related channels.

Evidently the caliphate and its fanboys no longer trust Telegram completely, or worry that too many of their channels will be shut down, because Defense One reports ISIS has created its own secure Android messaging app, tied to the ISIS-linked Amaq news agency.

“The application’s primary purpose is for propaganda distribution. Using the app you are able to follow the most recent news and video clips.” Ghost Security representatives told Defense One. The Amaq Agency has known ties to Islamic State and issued statements in support of the attackers in the recent California shootings before all the details were publicly available. .

Shortly after, Ghost Security discovered a separate app called Alrawi.apk, or just “the Alrawi app,” Initially, they believed it to resemble the Amaq Agency app. But on Jan. 11, they discovered “encrypted communications features although rudimentary to Telegram or other more-company created ones,” a Ghost Security representative told Defense One in an email.

Defense One goes on to speculate that ISIS might be worried about the potential success of demands by the U.S. and other Western governments for “back door” access to encrypted communications services, such as Telegram, WhatsApp, and Apple’s iPhone messaging.  To date, service providers have generally resisted these demands, or explained that back door access is impossible in the latest generation of secure messaging applications.

NDTV says the ISIS messaging app is called “Alrawi,” and it’s not available from public distribution systems like Google Play — it “requires an Isis supporter to download the app’s apk code and sideload it on their Android device.”

The NDTV report suggests Alrawi is meant to supplant a previous Amaq News Agency app, which was obscure but less well-protected against outside monitoring.

Inquisitr reports the server accessed by the older Amaq Agency app, which was distributed to ISIS supporters through Telegram posts, has disappeared.  This report also says Islamic State militants are still trying to use Telegram as well, by attempting to create hidden channels “undetectable unless provided with a link by an administrator or another user.”

ITProPortal argues that the development of the ISIS secure messaging app demonstrates how “online surveillance is pointless” and “more trouble than it is worth.”

Actually, forcing the militants to create their own app and secretly distribute it to supporters will significantly slow down and complicate their communications, even if the Alrawi app is never hacked… and you can bet not only government security teams, but the Islamic State’s online nemeses in the Anonymous hacker collective, are already poring over the code, looking for vulnerabilities.  If Alrawi is secretly hacked but ISIS still thinks it’s secure, an intelligence windfall could result.

Putting much of the ISIS online community into a single contained messaging system, with potentially unreliable infrastructure and administrators of dubious skill, might be better than having them spread across huge, professionally managed systems with millions of legitimate users.  If you’re looking to shoot fish, it’s easiest to pour them all into a single barrel.

It’s too early to tell if the development of an ISIS app is ominous… or an encouraging sign of weakness in the Islamic State’s disturbingly effective social media program.