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Inside the Jihadists’ digital toolboox

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Jihadist groups like ISIS use technology and online services extensively but, through clever use of security tools, their activities go largely undetected.
Flashpoint, which specialises in Deep Web and Dark Web data and intelligence, today released a new research report titled “Tech for Jihad: Dissecting Jihadists’ Digital Toolbox”. This report analyses the specific tools and mechanisms behind the online presence of jihadist groups such as ISIS to illuminate technology’s role in proliferating these actors’ radical agendas.
“In order to both gain popularity among potential supporters and instill fear in their adversaries, jihadists need consistent channels through which they can release propaganda, and technology is crucial for this,” says Laith Alkhouri, a co-author of the report and the director of Middle East/North Africa Research and a co-founder at Flashpoint.
“Jihadists’ reliance on technology for survival is a proven, powerfully motivating force, pushing the community to constantly learn, adapt, and advance through various technological tools.”
Jihadists’ strategic use of social media has garnered significant attention over the last two years; however, for the most part, the general public remains relatively uninformed about the complex ways in which many jihadists maintain robust yet secretive online presences.
Confidentiality and privacy are paramount to the survival of these groups, and with mainstream communication applications lacking the sophistication necessary to ensure sufficient security, jihadists are constantly forced to seek alternative methods of communication.
In its report, Flashpoint researchers identify six categories of tools and tactics integral to jihadist operations:
* Secure browsers: Jihadists are increasingly turning to highly secure, alternative browsers, such as the Tor browser, in order to operate online clandestinely without divulging identifying IP addresses and risking third-party surveillance.
* Virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy services: Tools such as CyberGhostVPN and F-Secure Freedome, often used in conjunction with secure browsers, help many jihadists further obfuscate their identities during online activities.
* Protected email eervices: As e-mail surveillance remains a powerful tool for intelligence agencies to monitor actors, jihadists are turning to alternative e-mail services equipped with popular security features such as end-to-end encryption and temporary, anonymous account capabilities.
* Mobile security applications: Increasingly, jihadists are leveraging specialised mobile applications to enhance security on smartphones.
* Encrypted messengers: Despite a vast assortment of secure messaging platforms publicly available, the chat application Telegram remains the top choice among jihadists.
* Mobile propaganda applications: As propaganda plays an integral role within the daily operations of radical jihadist groups, affiliated media units have released popular mobile applications enabling supporters to disseminate and view propaganda with greater ease, speed, and accessibility.
“Today’s jihadists’ unrelenting drive to adopt technology that facilitates concealing their online operations reflects their strong need to implement stringent security measures in order to operate outside the view of law enforcement while preserving their voice to attract new recruits,” says Alex Kassirer, report co-author and senior analyst: counterterrorism Middle East/North Africa at Flashpoint.
“The better we understand the online tools and technology jihadists leverage to engage in nefarious activities, the better we can work to mitigate threats emanating from this global community.”