The FBI is not able to monitor ISIS’s encrypted communications

Pierluigi Paganini June 04, 2015

The FBI warned lawmakers there was no way to monitor encrypted online communications among sympathizers of the ISIS, it urges a law to give them more powers.

The FBI warned lawmakers there was no way to monitor encrypted online communications exploited by Islamic State militants and sympathizers. The law enforcement urges IT giants to provide a backdoor to monitor encrypted communication among jihadists.

According to Michael Steinbach, assistant director of the FBI’s counter-terrorism division, the Bureau admitted its inability to monitor encrypted online conversations, these communications are ordinarily exploited by the ISIS for propaganda and to recruit new militants.

Steinbach reported to the House Homeland Security Committee that encrypted communications allow the establishment of an “afforded a free zone by which to recruit, radicalize, plot and plan.”

Steinbach admitted that law enforcement agencies did not know the volume of the hidden online messages.

“We’re past going dark in certain instances. We are dark,” said Steinbach.

The new generation of terrorists have great cyber capabilities, they mastered social media and the intelligence needs the instrument to fight them on the same battlefield, including the Dark Web.

“This event highlights the growing threat our nation faces from a new generation of terrorists, often operating from afar, who use social media to find like-minded associates within our borders who can be motivated to violence, attacking with little or no warning,” John Mulligan, deputy director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, told lawmakers.

The Dark Web is difficult to monitor for intelligence agencies, it is not so easy to locate members of terrorist organizations like the ISIS and Al Qaeda that share propaganda content. In the principal black markets hosted on the deep web it is possible to purchase any kind of illegal products and services, but in the dark part of the web it is also possible to find propaganda videos and images.

Hidden services in the Deep Web also offer the possibility to download the mobile apps used by the jihadists to communicate securely and to transfer Bitcoins to terrorist cells in every place of the world.

ISIS funds

At a recent Foreign Affairs Forum on Cryptocurrency Policy, government officials and Bitcoin entrepreneurs discussed the future of the cryptocurrency. Law enforcement fear possible abuses of the popular crypto currency, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, head of the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which is charged with fighting money laundering and terrorist finance, explained that the virtual currency scheme could facilitate bad actors, including terrorists.

Michael McCaul, chairman of the committee, confirmed that the inability to monitor communications among members of the ISIS in the dark web represents a “tremendous threat to our homeland.”

McCaul urged Congress to provide new investigation instruments to the authorities, he requested a law that provides them a full access to encrypted online communications and data archived in online storage.

“We suggest and we are imploring Congress to help us seek legal remedies towards that,” Steinbach said.

But the US intelligence is also “asking companies to help provide technology solutions,” it request IT giants to provide access to their services.

Privacy advocated and civil liberties groups they are on a war footing despite government assurances. Steinbach highlighted that the US government is not intentioned to run a new massive surveillance program.

“We’re not talking about large scale surveillance techniques,” explained Steinbach.

US authorities would still have to seek permission from a court and prove that its request for surveillance was justified, he said.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  Dark Web, ISIS)

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