The Digital Tech Of The Islamic State And Others

Bellingcat has an interesting article by Jett Goldsmith summarising some of the online techniques used by adherents of violent political Islam to communicate with each other and with the wider world.

“Propaganda has been a key measure of any jihadist group’s legitimacy since at least 2001, when al-Qaeda operative Adam Yahiye Gadahn established the media house As-Sahab, which was intended to spread the group’s message to a regional audience throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Over the years, jihadist propaganda has taken a broader and more sophisticated tone. Al-Qaeda published the first issue of its digital news magazine, Inspire, in June of 2010. Inspire was aimed at an explicitly Western audience, and intended to call to jihad the would-be mujahideen throughout Europe and the United States.

When ISIS first took hold in Iraq and Syria, and formally declared its caliphate in the summer of 2014, the group capitalized on the groundwork laid by its predecessors and established an expansive, highly sophisticated media network to espouse its ideology. The group established local wilayat (provincial) media hubs, and members of its civil service distributed weekly newsletters, pamphlets, and magazines to citizens living under its caliphate. Billboards were posted in major cities under its control, including in Raqqahand Mosul; FM band radio broadcasts across 13 of its provinces were set up to deliver a variety of content, from fatwas and sharia lessons to daily news, poetry, and nasheeds; and Al-Hayat Media Center distributed its digital news magazine, Dabiq, in over a dozen languages to followers across the world.

As the group expanded its operational capacity and declared new wilayat throughout the Middle East and South Asia, secure communications became an increasingly valued necessity. Secure messenger apps like Telegram were widely reported to be used for communication and coordination, both among ISIS fighters and the fanboys who have taken to task the mission of propagating their message. But ISIS has also embraced numerous other methods of keeping its communications secure, and hidden from the prying eyes of intelligence agencies seeking to snoop on its web traffic.”

Most of the programs and applications used by the “jihadists”, amateur and professionals alike, are freely available, like Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, or Opera, a security-orientated browser with VPN capabilities (a virtual private network or VPN enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks with a greater degree of anonymity). However, as we have repeatedly seen over the last few years, many of those participating in Islamic militancy in Europe are surprisingly slap-dash in their online security precautions. People are people, even fanatical Islamists, and most people use whatever is familiar or easy. Or whatever their family and friends are using. For which we can be grateful.

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