ISIS operates an around-the-clock “Jihadi Help Desk” to train terrorists and supporters in how to set up secure communications for the spreading of propaganda and planning of future attacks, NBC News reports.
The help desk is manned 24-hours-a-day by five to six senior ISIS operatives who help potential jihadists evade Western intelligence with a combination of free tools and teaching of online cybersecurity best practices.
Aaron Brantley, a counter terrorism analyst at West Point, told NBC the help desk operates a “fairly large, robust community” of computer-savvy members helping from around the world, led by experts with university-level training in information technology.
The idea that ISIS could have highly-skilled computer experts among its ranks is not implausible. The group’s social media strategy is boosted by an ISIS-produced app that effectively “games Twitter” by taking over a user’s Twitter feed and automatically spreading the group’s messages far and wide, and its slick propaganda videos suggest it has recruited skilled video producers to its media team.
The NBC report comes in the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Paris, France, which killed 129 people.
How ISIS (also known as Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) managed to evade law enforcement and pull off a highly-coordinated attack at multiple sites throughout Paris is still under investigation, though authorities believe the group is increasingly turning to communications that are much more difficult to monitor, such as encrypted online chats and messages passed directly via word-of-mouth.
“The most difficult communication between these terrorists is via PlayStation 4,” Jan Jambon, Belgium’s federal home affairs minister, said at a Politico event just days before the Paris attack. “It’s very, very difficult for our services — not only Belgian services but international services — to decrypt the communication that is done via PlayStation 4.”
However, it’s unclear if the terrorists involved in the November 13 attacks used the PlayStation 4 to communicate plans with each other.
In his comments, Jambon also mentioned WhatsApp, a popular instant messaging service which features built-in encryption.
Though an ISIS “help desk” that potentially walks jihadists step-by-step through the process of setting up encryption is a new development, the group has urged its supporters to use a number of platforms to evade authorities in the past, including the encrypted Tor internet browser, and secure messaging apps like Kik and SecureSpot.
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