The world is obsessed with figuring out exactly how ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other extremist organizations use technology in their efforts to become more powerful.
Dark web security firm Flashpoint is feeding that obsession with a new report, “Tech for Jihad: Dissecting Jihadists’ Digital Toolbox,” that draws on the firm’s experience trolling the dark web, studying these groups to explain how they decide what tech they should use for communication and indoctrination.
But other tidbits from the report are revelatory. For instance, Flashpoint says that extremist groups continue to mostly avoid WhatsApp, even though it added end-to-end encryption to its service in April. Why?
“A major thought leader in the pro-ISIS technology community warned followers that, despite the new upgrade, ‘we cannot trust WhatsApp since WhatsApp is the easiest application for hacking and also one of the social messaging apps purchased by the Israeli Facebook program!’” Wait, what? You could infer any number of things from that language.
Flashpoint also reveals that extremist organizations are comfortable developing their own software tools. Some of these — like the Asrar al-Dardashah secure communications plugin — make sense. These groups aren’t overly fond of the West, so it’s no surprise if they reduce their dependency on Western tools.
Other apps don’t seem quite so obvious. Take the Alphabet app that … teaches children how to read and write. That’s a pretty tame app for an organization that sacks cities, beheads hostages, and kidnaps thousands of sex slaves as it goes. Yet in reality Alphabet is a thinly-veiled attempt to win over the next generation.
“Alphabet’s exercises reference rockets, cannons, tanks, and other militaristic terms as a means of teaching children the alphabet,” Flashpoint says in its report. “Naturally, this further catalyzes ISIS’s aggressive indoctrination strategy.”
Besides those revelations, “Tech for Jihad” reads almost like a list of recommended apps for people who care about their privacy. It explains that the mobile Opera browser can block advertising trackers; walks through several different VPN services; compares encrypted messaging apps; and discusses other tools used by extremists to protect their information.
That sense of normalcy might be a good thing. It helps explain that groups like ISIS, for the most part, aren’t using complex technologies to advance their goals. They’re using tools that are available to anyone with a smartphone. There is no secret jihadi messaging service, amazing technical prowess, or fantastical cyber weapon. There’s just a concerted effort to intelligently use readily available tools.
If you still want to know more about what exactly these groups are using, though, you can find out by reading the full report that has been embedded below: