Terror groups are using NFTs to spread extremist messages, report finds

The first known digital token, created to sympathize with extremist views, was reported on over the weekend by the Wall Street Journal.

Islamic State/Iraq/Syria: A masked Islamic State soldier poses holding the ISIL banner somewhere in ...
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A report from the Wall Street Journal has discovered the existence NFTs sympathizing with extremist group, the Islamic State.

It’s the first known instance of an NFT being created and marketed by someone who actively supports the organization and represents a broader shift in the way terrorists groups operate online.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the name of the NFT was “IS-NEWS #01,” and it contained the symbolism of the Islamic State. Former U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, said the token functioned as a test of sorts, in order to gauge what potential outreach could look like.

The “IS-NEWS #01” NFT is on the far left of this screenshot, while the other two were reportedly uploaded by the same creator to Rarible, an NFT marketplace.WSJ

Permanent footprint — It’s hard to gauge the effectiveness in NFTs for terrorist messaging, but the nature of digital assets on the blockchain offer a challenge to law enforcement officials who seek to censor such content from the internet.

While individual marketplaces can remove NFTs, data points on the blockchain that serve as a proof of its the token’s existence remain behind. As WSJ notes, a platform called the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS), is able to “store and retrieve data across an array of internet nodes,” meaning the extremist NFTs are still accessible by using this system.

In addition to OpenSea, the NFT was also briefly available on Rarible, another NFT marketplace, before being removed. NFTs could be theoretically used to raise funds or launder money through a marketplace. Extremists could coordinate a run of sales before moderators have time to respond. Since these transactions would take place on the blockchain, tracing their origins would be harder than using traditional financial channels.

The creator of IS-NEWS #01 was discovered by Raphael Gluck, an intelligence analyst who founded Jihadoscope (a research firm monitoring jihadist activity), by using publicly available information across IS social media accounts to track down its source. He also exposed two other NFTs with similar messaging, stating that the sudden appearance of Islamic State NFTs “[are] very much an experiment... to find ways to make content indestructible.”

Uncharted territory — Even though the creator’s account was promptly deleted by OpenSea, it will remain to be seen how major marketplaces respond to a more concerted effort to spread extremists views moving forward.

The world of crypto has long been a hub for illicit activity, due to the anonymity of the blockchain and the ability for users to transfer funds without the need to be in the same geographic location.