Paris Attacks Reignite Online Surveillance Feud As ISIS Goes To The Dark Web

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Cover image from Business Insider

Never let a crisis go to waste.

Now that ISIS is on the move again and not just threatening coordinated terrorist acts, but carrying them out, one of the first orders of business is to penetrate their communications.  Naturally.  After all, this is war…and the Obama Administration likes to think war can be waged without getting our boots dirty.  So, of course, this means that the American people – and the Silicon Valley companies that provide the social media platforms we all use – just HAVE to let the government have a “back door” to social media programming so that the CIA and the FBI can snoop around the terrorists’ communications (and the rest of America’s) by-passing the encryption that Twitter, Facebook, PlayStation and any other platform uses.

And why should the Silicon Valley people do the government’s bidding?  Because Senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein say so.

Well, about that notion that ISIS is using just Twitter and PlayStation4 to communicate, and that Anonymous is busy disrupting their activities…um, according to the encrypto people, to get to the actual terrorists at the top of the food chain, just about everyone is looking in the wrong place aside from causing established networks to go dark.  According to multiple sources as reported by The New American, ISIS – Al Qaeda developedtheir own encryption system:

In fact, a newly released study by Flashpoint Global Partners shows that not only are terrorists creating their own tools for encrypted communications, they were doing so before Snowden’s revelations. More importantly, their use of cryptographic tools has not increased in the more than two years since those revelations. As the report explains:

For many years, the jihadi community has been cognizant of the benefits of encrypted communications and, as such, has developed its own proprietary cryptologic software in order to meet this demand. In October 2010, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) dedicated an entire sub-section of its English-language Inspire magazine to help teach would-be AQAP recruits about the need for digital encryption.”

As The Daily Dot reported:

“In 2007, well before the Snowden revelations in 2013, software called Asrar al-Mujahideen (Secrets of the Mujahideen) was released on an Al Qaeda Web forum known as “al-Ekhlaas.” This software is used to encrypt “messages and files between users and is promoted as a trusted and secure avenue for terrorist groups,” according to Flashpoint.”

To add insult to that injury for the McCain-Feinstein argument of backdoors and letting the American government into the various social media platforms for “security” purposes, reports from the underbelly of the internet are that the ISIS propagandizers – an offshoot of Al Qaeda – have a mirror site set up on Tor, an open source system not indexed by Google, accessed via a modified Firefox browser and one of the most difficult “onion” platforms to navigate for anyone trying to trace a location or a user.

A mirror of an ISIS propaganda site has launched as a Tor hidden service, likely in an attempt to make its material more resilient to take-downs, or to protect the identity of the group’s supporters.

Online terrorism researcher Scot Terban wrote on his blog on Sunday that the Al-Hayat Media Center, which is affiliated with ISIS, “has posted a link and explanation on how to get to their new dark net site” on a forum associated with the group.

Links to the site were also published by a number of jihadi-linked Twitter accounts, Motherboard found.

“It’s legitimate,” J M Berger, co-author of the book ISIS: The State of Terror, told Motherboard in an email. “My understanding is that this is just a mirror” of another ISIS site, he added. This means that the site is only republishing content from elsewhere. Mirrors are often used when sites are at risk of being taken down.

So, no matter how many sites and Twitter accounts ISIS has set up for its foot soldiers that Anonymous and the other white hat hackers out there take down, ISIS has an online presence and they’ve developed their own encryption to protect it, even if they may not be using it all.  Given this information, the New American asks the question that needs to be answered before any more American liberties are breached in the name of security:

So, if terrorists are not increasing their use of cryptography and if the tools they are using are proprietary tools developed in-house, why is the American intelligence community demanding that the tools Americans use be weakened? Is it about security or is it about control? Considering that they are using the deaths of 129 ordinary citizens and the the wounding of hundreds more to perpetuate their myths about the use of cryptography, the answer is evident.

Watching this round of the encryption wars unfold has been rather telling actually.  Anonymous takes less than 72 hours to identify and take down THOUSANDS of jihadi Twitter accounts.  Ghost Security Group, a group of ethical hackers hovering around Bitcoin, found and was able to shut down ISIS funding done through the online currency. Thanks to other users of the dark web and associated open source software, we now know that ISIS is nimble enough technologically speaking to operate outside of the commercial software services and hacking abilities.  With that known, the Obama Administration is still talking about monitoring social media.  And members of the Senate are still demanding back doors into private programming which is someone else’s intellectual property.

The American government is really lagging behind if this is honestly where their concerns and emphasis is concentrated.  Either that, or this is another crisis just too important to waste.

More intrigue and information on Tor and layman’s language of the Dark Web can be found at International Business Times.

About the Author

Cultural Limits
A resident of Flyover Country, Cultural Limits is a rare creature in American Conservatism - committed to not just small government, Christianity and traditional social roles, but non-profits and high arts and culture. Watching politics, observing human behavior and writing are all long-time interests. In her other life, CL writes romance novels under her nom de plume, Patricia Holden (@PatriciaHoldenAuthor on Facebook), and crochets like a mad woman (designs can be found on Facebook @BohemianFlairCrochet and on Pinterest on the Bohemian Flair Crochet board). In religion, CL is Catholic; in work, the jill of all trades when it comes to fundraising software manipulation and event planning; in play, a classically trained soprano and proud citizen of Cardinal Nation, although, during hockey season, Bleeds Blue. She lives in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley with family and two cute and charming tyrants...make that toy dogs.