By Saron Messembe Obia
One of the major dynamics of the Internet is its ability to connect physically distant people, with different profiles and those with common job description, and educational lane. This global connectivity on the cyberspace, allows people to easily connect and interact with the use of social applications, which help public and private sectors reconfigure their systems, as most develop and control technical and logical infrastructure via internet. However, the technological evolution era changed traditional policing paradigm, as territorial demarcation and effective control to maintain state sovereignty. State authorities are now encountering security breach in which the conventional ways of working are often not effective, due to new criminal techniques on the cyberspace.
The anonymity offered by Internet acts as a defensive tool, to expose human rights violation on activists and journalist, who take risks in order to protect freedom of expression, and battle against government overreach. However, the internet, is continuously exploited by terrorists and violent extremists to avoid detection, help map out terrorism spots, and as well recruit for terrorist activities. For example, “echo-chambers” describe the phenomenon where online community on social media platform embrace new ideas and opinions which reinforce their own beliefs at the expense of alternative or dissenting messages. Similarly, “filter bubbles” occur where search engines or social networks use algorithms that personalize search results or newsfeed content based on an individual’s location, browsing history, returning search results with which the person is likely to agree with. This tools have changed the ‘game’, as terrorists are increasingly exploiting online platforms for anonymous communications, coordinate cyber-attack and even map out potential spots (using google earth).
Security issues relating to the internet.
The Surface Web is the most visible part of the Internet and its content is comprised of anything that can be accessed through a link without additional security credentials. Information usually contained in the surface web has been indexed by conventional search engines such as Google or Yahoo! Search, and is accessible via standard browsers such as Chrome or Firefox, and it accounts for about 2% of online content.
The Deep Web content is not accessible through a link, because the content has not been indexed by the search engine, and access requires additional security credentials. The Deep Web constitutes online information such as emails, and files stored on cloud services which does not require security credentials. Deep Web is usually access on standard browsers such as Chrome or Firefox, and it accounts for 98% of online content.
The Dark Net is part of the Deep Web which is used for criminal purposes, and which cannot be accessed using standard browsers. Instead, accessing data in the Dark Net requires special software such as TOR and VPN. Content on the Dark Net accounts for only about 0.03% of online content.
Anonymous online services
The age of technological evolution, though a bliss for the world, is also a strategic menace for authorities to gather pertinent information relating to judicially-sanctioned criminal investigations. Social media platforms such as secure messaging apps, online video sharing, service enabling anonymity during online browsing and as well offer secure platforms from which violent extremist content can be easily disseminated and creation of enormous volumes of communication flow, thus allowing terrorists to hide among the heavy traffic. Some of these services which can be exploited for positively and as well negatively reasons are but not limited to.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a well structured service which allows users to hide their location and activities, by connecting to a server’s IP address in another country, making it appear that they are operating from multiple locations. For example; a software like Hide My Ass, allow users anonymity on the Internet, help to circumvent geographical restrictions and websites blocked IP addresses and to protect personal identity.
The Onion Router (Tor) is a free and open-source software enabling anonymous online browsing. Tor restricts or prevent a user’s location and usage from traffic analysis and network scanning by directing Internet traffic through a worldwide. The software is also used to protect personal privacy of its users, as well as to prevent monitoring of online communications.
Though the internet is incorporate by legit software and services which protects the rights to privacy and freedom of expression of users, such services are increasingly a global menace when exploited by criminal networks and terrorist purposes (when used to incite violence, promote radicalization and extremism ideology). More so, terrorists exploit online platforms to influence mainstream media coverage. Many of these communication channels are produced in a highly professional multimedia format.
Social Media and Terrorist activities
Social media are interactive online forum which facilitate the creation and sharing of user-generated content, data, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression within virtual communities and networks. Social media platforms facilitate the development of online social networks by pulling attention to propaganda, allowing easy sharing of such information, and by enabling users to find other individuals or groups with common interests. About half of the world’s population are connected to social media platforms (Our World in Data, September 2019), as these online communities facilitate communication around the world. Social media platforms have similar features, but enable users to create a user profile, sometimes with personal information such as location, occupation, political and religious affiliations, and then to form networks with other users of the platform. Today these networks are exploited for criminal purposes by terrorists and violent extremist groups.
Use of Social Media for Terrorist purposes
Social media platforms are increasingly used by terrorist and violent extremists for disseminating propaganda, which lead to the endorsement of jihadist tendencies by youths radicalized by videos, books and some motivated by cyberattacks perpetrated by flag bearers, as elaborated below:
- First contact: recruiters thrilling post online on social media platforms, appealing for sympathizers and vulnerable individuals.
- Create micro-community: recruiters appeal on flag bearers (jihadists or terrorists) to interact with each other, share content online, expand the crusade (terrorism and global jihad) and restraint from individuals who do not subscribe to their ideology.
- Use of private communications: recruiters lull flag bearers in to private chat rooms which cannot be monitored by security agency.
- Violent extremism/terrorism hit: recruiter identify potential hit to be perpetrated by new member, after sending the individual instructions, and similar missions by other flag members. Terrorist groups also social media activism, either activist tweet or retweet messages.
- Jihadist tendencies and Terrorist attack: after the above, the jihadist can lead terrorist attack either on soft or hard target.
Case studies of terrorist attacks prepared through messaging apps:
- WhatsApp case
In 2017, Khalid Masood reportedly used WhatsApp to announce his motives before the Westminster attack in the United Kingdom. ISIL/Dash claimed responsibility for the attack, revealing that guidance and support for the attack was provided via messages.
In April 2017, the brain behind the Stockholm attack reportedly used WhatsApp to exchange messages with an ISIL/Daesh flag bearer before and after the attack. Jihadists usually share messages on how to manufacturing of an explosive device and a confession of the perpetrated attacks.
ISIL/Daesh most used application is Telegram. The group, through her crusade, encouraged supporters and members to adhere to the application, which in October 2015 the number of followers of their official channel hit 9,000.
In August 2016, it was revealed by French anti-terrorism investigators that the two ISIL/Daesh-directed Jihadists who fatally cut the throat of a priest in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy, and videoed the murder, communicated via Telegram and “used the app to coordinate their plans for the attack.”
Cryptocurrency and terrorism
Security dynamics have change within the past decades, violent extremist groups are gaming the system, as they are turning to cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to carry out covert and anonymous financial transactions challenging national and international policing (Global Terrorism Index 2018, pp 77-78). Cryptocurrencies exploit Internet-based blockchain technology to effectuate financial transactions directly between two parties independently of any central authority. Importantly the exchanges are made using private held keys which make detection and policing by government authorities challenging. Cybercriminals have equally joined the ‘game’ as they lull their victims, to effectuate payment using this pattern. For example, Far-Right European Violent Extremist Group Order of the Dawn crusade to raise funds for its organization using the cryptocurrency Monero (Far Right European Group Crowdfunding Cryptocurrency).
Cryptocurrency and Social Media
Cryptocurrency syndrome warrants states to develop mechanism in order to counter the exploitation of this financial service by cybercriminals and terrorist organizations against states and local communities. Social media platforms are increasingly involving in to cryptocurrency in order to grow their businesses and limit the costs of financial transactions.
In 2019, Facebook announced its intention to create its own cryptocurrency called Libra, in relation of the security menace pose individuals or groups using the system in terrorist financing. The concern in relation to Zuckerberg agenda was an economic menace, which a cryptocurrency created by Facebook giant, could effectuate on local currencies.
The release of the Charter for Facebook Independent Oversight Board (Board) in September 2019, is yet to solve emerging security and economic challenges, which are increasingly exploited by cybercriminals and terrorist groups. However, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 11-40 members are yet to prove to the world their expertise on policy decisions, such as for content takedowns, and will make recommendations for changes in Facebook’s policies. While considering the concerns of US senators on proposed bill to regulate “stablecoins,” which they explicitly defined to include Libra in 2019 (US Senate Draft Law: “Management Stablecoins are Securities Act of 2019”, 21 November 2019
The proliferation of security software and financial online platforms, help terrorist and cybercriminals effectuate covert operations. Policing crimes is not limit to national and international organizations, for social media founders have gone beyond the services of connectivity and chat forum, to provide protocols to counter criminal activities. In July 2017, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) emerged from a group of four founding companies; Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube, operating Internet platforms and services, with the aim to disrupt terrorist menace of members’ and digital platforms.
However, the strategic objectives of GIFCT are: capacity building of technology companies, to prevent and restrict terrorists and violent extremist ideas and threats on their digital platforms; enable multi-stakeholder engagement in policing terrorist misuse of the Internet; encourage those dedicated to online civil dialogue and empower efforts to direct positive alternatives towards jihadists messages; expose terrorist modus operandi and the intersection of online and offline activities.
More so, the GIFCT agenda is to establish an organization with a mission to counter terrorist and violent extremists use of Internet and digital platforms. The organization will initially limit its membership to companies offering Internet platforms and services, as well cooperate with civil society organizations (CSOs) and other government partners. The four core objectives of GICTF organization will undertake these four foundational goals: suppressing accessibility to content related terms. Content take down refers to content that has been deleted from the server on which it is hosted online. Content filtering refers to software that limits the availability of particular types of content to devices, such as content that is considered to pose a security threat. Content blocking refers to software that restrict access to particular content, such as geo-blocking that prevents accessing content hosted on a server with an Internet Protocol (IP) address that indicates it is located in a particular country. Suppression of content rankings or ratings is another way that content providers can make finding specific content more difficult.
In June 2019, Canadian government provided grant to Tech Against Terrorism to build the Terrorist Content Analytics Platform, with a well-established database of online terrorist material. The mission of tech entity is to enable better quantitative analysis of terrorist use of the Internet in order to educate on more effective preventative and counter terrorism measures, as well as, support the development of automated solutions. Other countries have developed similar counter trends, like the Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) and the Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), with mission to monitor violent extremist threats, identify trends and cooperate with local actors in order to update its counterterrorism, counterintelligence, crisis management and cybersecurity programs.
(The Author is the Editor of crimeandmoreworld.com)
UN General Assembly Debates the Necessity of Ending the United States’ Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo Against Cuba
- For Africa, a Streaming Battle
- Documentary The Lakota Daughters
- COVID Restrictions for Moscow Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes: A Surprising Order
- UN General Assembly Debates the Necessity of Ending the United States’ Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo Against Cuba
- In the Midst of New Violence in Tigray, Ethiopia’s Long-Awaited Election Comes to a Close
- In Rural Areas of India, Technological Barrier Has Hampered the COVID Vaccination Drive
- In Greece, Pushbacks and Violence Against Refugees and Migrants Are Defacto Border Policy: Amnesty International
- Gokarna a Popular Tourist Destination in India
- Armenia Highly Polarized Nation Despite Pashinyan’s Snap Election Victory
- Thousands of Kandahar’s Displaced Families are in Terrible Straits
- Nations, Lawmakers Urge UN Investigation Into Abuses in China’s Xinjiang
- Situation in Afghanistan Worries UN
- Breonna Taylor’s Memory is Remembered With an Augmented Reality Event
- Vaccination of Senior Citizens Gaining Momentum in KwaZulu-Natal
- The World Bank Believes Zimbabwe’s Economy is on the Rise