Tags: Terrorists | Going | High-Tech

Terrorists Going High-Tech

Monday, 25 June 2007 12:00 AM

Members of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are gaining sophisticated technical knowledge and using it to recruit new members and raise funds on the Internet. And their efforts are paying off.

Terrorists are no longer just a gang of Muslims in turbans and long beards, hiding in a cave on the other side of the world. One look at the photos of the 9/11 hijackers provides some insight. They had Western style haircuts and wore polo shirts and Dockers.

In the early years of the war on terrorism, the capture of an al-Qaida operative such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed often provided American forces with electronic intelligence, such as the contents of a laptop computer and disks, or the recently-called numbers stored in a cell phone.

There was no encoding, encryption, or other data security whatsoever. Passwords were easily cracked, information easliy gained.

The data yielded names of sympathizers, and locations of safe houses, weapons caches and other terrorists — whose personal belongings led to even more useful data.

After a string of defeats and frustrations on the technical front, the Emir of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, put out the call for tech support in a published statement. Russ Rice, an FBI agent in Chicago, stated in a telephone interview that providing tech support for terrorists is a crime. Nevertheless, jihadi sympathizers in the Muslim world have answered the call.

An online magazine, Technical Mujahid, has taken root and is published in Arabic by the Al Fajr Information Center, which has released al-Qaida videos to news agencies. Its first issue was published in November 2006.

Technical Mujahid provides a cook book approach to technical know-how, and provides maps, charts, and other visual aids.

The editors state that their purpose is to heed the directives of the emir of al-Qaida in Iraq and his call for technical support.

In the first issue, aspiring jihadists are taken step-by-step through the processes of both cryptography (where the existence of a message is not disguised, but its content is obscured) and steganography (where an important message is concealed within something completely innocuous, so that no one but the intended recipient is aware that the message exists).

The authors provide an example of a message written in Arabic, concealed in a pixellated image, then sent as an e-mail attachment or published on a Web site. Encrypted e-mails are also discussed, encryption tools are recommended, and the use of "Hacker Defender," a software package that enables hackers to infiltrate Web sites, PCs, and similar devices, is also discussed in detail.

The first issue of Technical Mujahid also teaches its readers about the importance of satellite communications and GPS systems, including hand-held GPS; how to create, edit and distribute video productions; and how to create a password that isn't easily cracked.

The second issue, weighing in at 72 pages, provides an additional overview of steganography and covert communications, and how to create a jihadi Web site from scratch, with tips on Web design and Web hosting. Another encryption tool, called "Mujahedin secrets," is recommended to readers. The basics of video subtitling are covered in another article.

In Technical Mujahid's first foray out of information technology and into weapons systems, there's also a detailed discussion of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, such as the American Stinger and the Russian IGLA. The missiles' targeting systems and other technical specifications were covered in depth.

The reaction of Western observers has been mixed. Dancho Danchev, a blogger specializing in data security and Internet issues, believes that the purpose is to create "a knowledge-driven jihadist community . . . generating noise with armies of religiously brainwashed soldiers."

Danchev speculates on the possibility of "purposely disinforming the general public and various intel folks across the world, on relatively primitive infowar practices . . ." He contends that "low lifes are putting more efforts into educating the average jihadist on how to generate noise, so that the real conversation can continue with wannabe jihadists getting caught, and the true masterminds remaining safe."

But American anti-terrorist agencies are taking these efforts seriously. Recently captured insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq have been found with GPS devices and PDAs containing encrypted data.

Paul Bresson, an FBI agent based in Washington, explained, "Other criminal organizations have shown remarkable skill and sophistication in the areas of data security and hacking. We have to conclude that the terrorists have access to the same technology, and are using it to their advantage."

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Members of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are gaining sophisticated technical knowledge and using it to recruit new members and raise funds on the Internet. And their efforts are paying off.Terrorists are no longer just a gang of Muslims in turbans and long beards,...
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2007-00-25
Monday, 25 June 2007 12:00 AM
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