Al-Qaeda usage of encryption after Snowden leaks (Part 2)

Web Intelligence experts at Recorded Future issued the second part of the analysis on the usage of encryption by Al-Qaeda after the Snowden leaks.

In May 2014 web intelligence firm Recorded Future published an interesting research on the use of encryption made by Al-Qaeda after the Snowden leaks. The study reported that members of Al-Qaeda are developing a series of new encryption software in response to NSA surveillance.

Since 2007, Al-Qaeda groups have developed the encryption software Mujahideen Secrets used to protect online and cellular communications, but according the report of the intelligence the militants are using different new encryption tools and communication channels (New services like mobile, instant messaging).

The below tools were designed starting from the Mujahideen Secrets tool used by terrorists of Al-Qaeda:

  1. Tashfeer al-Jawwal, a mobile encryption platform developed by the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) and released in September 2013.
  2. Asrar al-Ghurabaa, another alternative encryption program developed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham and released in November 2013, around the same time the group broke away from the main Al-Qaeda following a power struggle.
  3. Amn al-Mujahid, an encryption software program developed by Al-Fajr TechnicalCommittee which is a mainstream Al-Qaeda organization and released in December 2013.

The second report published by Recorded Future with experts at ReversingLabs provides further details on the topic. Groups belonging to Al-Qaeda’s media arms are showing a growing interest in mobile technologyAndroid is the preferred platform for these groups due to the large availability and affordability of Android phones in their countries.

a1

Since the first report provided by the Recorded Future firm, the group Al-Fajr released a new Android encryption app in June 2014 while GIMF also released a new version of their Android app.

a2

According to the analysts, there is a strict correlation between Snowden leaks and the  increased pace of innovation in encryption technology by Al-Qaeda.

“Take your precautions, especially in the midst of the rapidly developing news about the cooperation of global companies with the international intelligence agencies, in the detection of data exchanged over smartphones.” is reported on the Tashfeer al-Jawwal download page.

 As Al-Qaeda has launched new software products and modules, are they using new crypto algorithms invented by themselves (“home-brew”) or adopting new algorithms available in the public?

Based on the analysis of the Recorded experts conducted through the reverse engineering of the encryption application used by the member of Al-Qaeda, the groups aren’t using home-brew encryption.

These products have been rumored to be infected with malware/backdoors of various sorts – inserted by governments and/or Al-Qaeda. Can we observe that?

Experts at Recorded Future asked to the colleagues at ReversingLabs to plot produce the detection rate of such encryption tool in the last years. The company observed that the detection rate rises from early 2011 reaching its maximum in early 2013 and then falls until now.

a3

Despite intelligence agencies hare interested to infect such application to track terrorist groups the peak in the above graph is related to factors different from malware infection of the applications used by Al-Qaeda.

  • A spike in the usage of this encryption package by Al-Qaeda groups.
  • A trend of marking these applications as a possible vehicle of infection to make them less attractive for Jihadist to use.
  • It is not excluded that some applications used by groups of Al-Qaeda were intentionally infected with backdoors or malware in Asrar causing warnings on possible infection to persist.

Let’s continue to monitor together the technological evolution of Al-Qaeda groups, reports like this one are essential to profile the threat of such organization.

For futher details give a look to the report “How Al-Qaeda Uses Encryption Post-Snowden (Part 2) – New Analysis in Collaboration With ReversingLabs

Pierluigi Paganini

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