Online Forums Provide Key Havens For Terror Plots


After the NSA programs were revealed in June by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, jihadi websites began urging followers to also use software that would hide their Internet protocol addresses and, essentially, prevent them from being tracked online. That aimed to add another layer of security to the online traffic.

An Aug. 5 discussion about the U.S. embassy closings on a jihadi forum that is directly linked to al-Qaida underscored the need for “complete secrecy” in plotting attacks even while jeering at the American response to the message between al-Zawahri and al-Wahishi.

In a post on the Shumukh al-Islam online forum, a writer who identified himself as Sayyed al-Mawqif noted American news reports that said the terror threat possibly was intercepted though phone calls or surveillance of jihadist chat rooms or message boards. Shumukh al-Islam is not an encrypted site, but it requires a password to access and does not frequently accept new visitors.

“Even if there will not be a jihadi operation, it is sufficient that the mujahideen brothers succeeded in putting fear in the hearts of the disbelievers and the human devils,” al-Mawqif wrote, according to a SITE translation of the transcript. “We hope to hear more about psychological wars like this one if there are no actual jihadi operations on the ground.”

Encryption technology was once regulated by the U.S. for national security purposes, but it has been available to the public and used globally since the 1990s, including by human rights and free speech advocates.

“You can encrypt things in such a way that you can assume that even the NSA can’t undo them – there’s no back door,” said Dan Auerbach, a technology expert at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is challenging NSA eavesdropping in federal lawsuits.

“We think it is very important to have tools for privacy,” Auerbach said. But “when you develop a strong privacy-enhancing tool, it will help everyone – and this may include people considered by many to be ‘bad guys.”’

Other technology experts believe the government could access encrypted messages with the help of Internet providers.

Depending on what software is used, Internet providers theoretically could be compelled to send the coded messages and their decryption keys to the government instead of to the intended recipient. Unknown vulnerabilities in software may also make it possible for hackers to break into computers and obtain messages.

It’s also possible that U.S. intelligence officials used a decidedly low-tech method to intercept the message between al-Zawahri and al-Wahishi – by planting a spy in the online forum. That has happened in the past, according to intelligence experts, most recently in a case now in federal court in Miami in which prosecutors say an undercover FBI agent snared two alleged terrorist recruiters in an online chat room by posing as a financial middleman.

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Posted by on Sep 3rd, 2013 and filed under Techline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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