Syria : Working with technology and adapting to latest trends in communication techniques has become the score point not only for peace-loving citizens worldwide, but also forms an integral part of the peace-breaking anti-national and anti-social disruptive elements of the world — the terrorists in particular, originating from the group of ISIS. ISIS has a technology resource domain for jihadists looking to seek camouflage and better cover for their tracks leading to anti-social activities. The terror group has been found to operate on a call-centre like work module, wherein it has deputed five to six dedicated members, whose main task is to provide 24-hour support on how to encrypt communications, hide personal details and use apps like Twitter while avoiding surveillance.
Its designed akin to a ‘help desk’, of course not a true call centre of sorts, but a proxy evil twin of the call centre service sector enterprise, providing information at the click of a button, after proper verification are scanned through, and proxy enquiries sorted out. As per the inputs obtained from Cyber Fellow members working with Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, the information suggests that, laden with trained and techno-savvy minds, this so-called ‘Help desk’ is a group of IT specialists answering questions from locations spread out all over the world. The modus operandi though works through use of messaging apps and other internet adaptable platforms which are enabled with remote working capabilities and do not require high data range. Once a help is extended from the ‘Help Desk’, the advice has been found to transmit via an ISIS ‘channel’ on Telegram, a messaging app that caught popularity among members of the group, basically for the obvious reason that, this platform was found to provide stealth of data sharing, and allowed ‘special secret chats.’
Working on fully operational mechanics, the Jihadi help desk is supported with lengthy training manuals, and a review of these done by the Cyber Fellow researchers revealed, detailing of over 300 pages of training documents and roughly 25 YouTube videos which provided tips to evade intelligence agencies and law enforcement. The researchers categorized the manuals as technically sophisticated on the whole, and heavily upgraded with latest law traps and booby trails, to be abated.
The Help Desk was found to provide information pertaining to matters like — How to conceal your phone number when signing up for apps like Telegram, how to fake your phone number when creating accounts on both Telegram and Twitter, discussions on issues like whether jihadists should use Skype to communicate, a list of precautions users should take while using Instagram to avoid releasing their location, and tips for thwarting facial recognition technology. The list of help service also included stuff like — Which apps would be most appropriate for making a veiled phone call, how to digitally communicate if Internet access was cut off, how to securely browse the web, to name a few.
Additionally, the technical support network could open door for lone-wolf jihadists by giving individuals the tools they needed, for tasks like — by using encryption, by learning how to hide their activities etc. Encryption technology was developed to protect privacy, particularly for those at risk of oppression, which however, found roads to the exploit cell of terrorists, and this ‘Help Desk’ reflected how technology could be used for nefarious purposes.