The fact that ISIS has used technology to the group’s extreme advantage over the years is old news, but a new report from NBC News yesterday shows the extent of the terrorist group’s technological prowess. Counterterrorism analysts associated with the U.S. Army have learned the organization maintains a 24-hour Jihadi Help Desk designed to support its foot soldiers in recruiting new members and launching attacks.
The idea is a frightful concept during a time when the world is reeling from last week’s atrocities in Paris. U.S. intelligence has found that the Help Desk is manned around the clock by six senior operatives and is designed to help members of the group use encryption and secure communications technologies to escape law enforcement detection.
"They answer questions from the technically mundane to the technically savvy to elevate the entire jihadi community to engage in global terror," said Aaron F. Brantly, a counterterrorism analyst at the Combating Terrorism Center. "Clearly this enables them to communicate and engage in operations beyond what used to happen, and in a much more expeditious manner. They are now operating at the speed of cyberspace rather than the speed of person-to-person communications."
The Center spent a year monitoring the Help Desk and its senior operatives through online forums, social media and other channels. Analysts describe the operation as very decentralized and operating in virtually every region of the world. Help Desk staff are charged with tracking new security software and encryption and quickly producing materials to train other operatives on new technologies. The Center claims ISIS is training all levels of members in high-level digital security operations, distributing materials through social media including Twitter and YouTube (News - Alert) in the form of documents and tutorials.
"They will engage in encrypted person-to-person communications, and these are extremely hard to break into from a cryptographic perspective," said Brantly. "They also post YouTube Videos, going step by step over how to use these technologies. Imagine you have a problem and need to solve it and go to YouTube; they have essentially established the same mechanism [for terrorism]."
Last month, FBI Director James Comey expressed concern about ISIS’ technological abilities and stressed the importance of all law enforcement organizations learning about the latest communication tools to keep up with the group.
Meanwhile, international hacking group Anonymous has declared its own war on ISIS, posting personal information on suspected members of the organization. The group also claims to have found and taken down Twitter (News - Alert) accounts of suspected members and has vowed to continue a technological war against the terror group.