High-Tech Terrorists

July 7, 2017 Crime , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Technology


Ricardo Swire


Rapid technological evolution and increased dependency of internet communications created a cyber environment where network data is not always available.

Since 2015 the former US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Director told New York Police Department (NYPD) top officials “the use of encryption is at the center of terrorist trade craft.” Independent analysis confirmed both Al Qaeda and Islamic State have for some time utilized the Telegram app platform for internal communication and recruiting.

Trends show terrorists used encrypted messaging apps to communicate while executing atrocities. Telegram, Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s Whatsapp platforms offer users unbreakable encryption. Telegram and WhatsApp are favorites. Both enable groups of a maximum five thousand users to send fully encrypted messages, documents, videos and pictures free of cost. Together the two messaging apps cater to an estimated one hundred million global users.

Internal security and law enforcement analysts regard recovered terrorists’ chats and texts as valuable prizes. The ultramodern terrorist is cognizant his/her personal security depends on ability to encrypt phone traffic, mask electronic backups and remain silent during interrogations. Two years before WhatsApp launched its “Signal Protocol” in 2014, Telegram was the only main stream app designed to encrypt messages.

Telegram has a special feature which allows users to send messages that self-destruct after a timed release. The app also permits users to activate a lock that provides coded access only. The Russian developed messaging app allows users to create public channels. This modification prompted significant IS cyberspace expansion. The terror Organization’s Communications Department doubled its Telegram platform user quota.

After October 7, 2015 IS affiliated Telegram main channel subscribers increased, from four thousand to eight thousand five hundred users with more than fifty channels. In 2016 a fourteen year old Blackburn Lancashire England schoolboy and IS sympathizer used Telegram to secretly communicate with an eighteen year old Australian male IS convert. The duo planned a terror attack for Monday April 25, 2016, at the annual Anzac Day parade in Melbourne, Australia.

The teenage IS followers openly discussed logistics and potential killing methods in Telegram app chats. They planned to use the eighteen year old Australian’s car to strike a police officer performing duties on Anzac Day. After the law enforcer was knocked to the ground the two IS sympathizers would behead him to advance “violent jihad.” The Western teenagers chose Anzac Day to “make sure the dogs remember this as well as their fallen heroes.”

In addition to Telegram terrorists maximize WhatsApp messenger’s “end to end encryption.” WhatsApp provides backups, recoverable from a phone’s SD Memory Card or account cloud storage. French Counter-Terrorism Unit officials, who probed recent Paris terror attacks, found participants used WhatsApp and Telegram to strategize. The attackers changed SIM Cards frequently to avoid surveillance.

In an April 2017 attack one police officer was shot dead and two others injured, after a gunman exited a car parked on the Champs Elysees and started shooting. The scenario was one of five terror incidents in four months targeting security forces in Paris. The shooting forced closure of streets and a law enforcement cordon around Paris’ most famous boulevard, as French political candidates contested the final TV debate nearby.

In 2001 the attacker served an eleven year prison sentence for shooting two Gendarmerie Nationale officers. During his incarceration the IS convert disarmed a prison guard, then shot and wounded the penal institution employee. In 2013 the terrorist was imprisoned again for other criminal offences, but released in 2015 on probation. Despite this criminal record his name never appeared on the Directorate-General for External Security’s (DGSE) “Fiche S” surveillance list. French residents on DGSE’s “Watch List” are known to be radicalized.

On Monday June 19, 2017 Gendarmerie Nationale officers again cordoned off Paris’ Champs Elysees Avenue after a male driven private vehicle, retrofitted with explosives, rammed a police van and exploded in a fireball. French Counter-Terrorism officials discovered one AK-47 assault rifle, two pistols and a propane gas bottle in the burnt out shell. The attack occurred in proximity to the local US Embassy and Elysee Presidential Palace.

Evidence suggests monitoring extremists and terrorists’ general interaction on Telegram app’s platform is probable. However overall communication disruption is difficult compared to other social media platforms such as Twitter. In April 2017 terrorists killed fifteen residents in St Petersburg, Russia. Federal Security Service or FSB agents secured evidence that indicated one suicide bomber used Telegram mobile messenger’s encryption to evade detection. After the FSB brought state power to bear on Telegram app’s administrators, the Company’s thirty-one year old developer, self-exiled since 2014, ordered the termination of more than six hundred and sixty public channels used by Islamic extremists.





Ricardo Swire - Tuck Magazine

Ricardo Swire

Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.


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