ISIS keeps getting better at avoiding US surveillance

Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee the US Defense is worried by the capabilities of the ISIS members for keeping their communications covert.

Last week American officials had yet another meeting to discuss about the difficulties to track the ISIS militants, emblematic is the case of the alleged death of its leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi disproved by himself in a recent recorded message.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had survived a US airstrike and promised revenge anticipating the eruption of the volcanos of jihad.

ISIS members have proven exceptionally difficult to track due a proper use of technology tools, like application for encryption, social media platforms and encrypted instant messaging platforms. Recently the media announced that ISIS has released a manual for its militants, titled “How to Tweet Safely Without Giving out Your Location to NSA”, that explain how avoid surveillance.

According to US officials, ISIS members are encrypting their communications and taking steps to avoid the US surveillance. Monitoring of communications is strategically for Intelligence activities, due to the limited resources operating in the territories occupied by the organization.

“When you literally have a force on the ground, you’re in a better position to take advantage of these communications,” said a former U.S. official.

The situation is very complex respect the 2007, when the National Security Agency tracked the computers and cellphones of members of al Qaeda in Iraq and addressed its ground forces on the targets.

American officials are concerned with the difficulty to decipher the messages, official fonts reveals that ISIS is also using a commercially available service that allow to permanently delete messages sent via the Internet, like the popular application FireChat that allows users to send messages to each other without connecting to the Internet.

FireChat is a mobile app developed by Open Garden, which uses wireless mesh networking to enable mobile devices to connect via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Apple’s Multipeer Connectivity peer-to-peer without an internet connection, according US intelligence the application is widely used in Iraq and other areas occupied by the ISIS forces.

The ISIS is aware of monitoring activities operated by the US Intelligence and is adapting its communication technique to avoid them, in some cases the group has also involved couriers to convey messages.

“These guys have a level of discipline. They will enforce through the ranks not using cellphones,” reported U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials told The Daily Beast.

Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel admitted that that ISIS is dodging the US Intelligence:

“ISIL fighters have been forced to alter their tactics—maneuvering in smaller groups, hiding large equipment, and changing their communications methods,” Hagel said.

The ISIS is hiding its members into civilian population, limiting its exposure though high-power radios, satellite and cellphones. There is the concrete possibility that ISIS militants are exploiting hidden services in the Tor network to communicate remaining anonymous, but analyzing the data related to the number of Tor users accessing from the areas controlled by the group it is possible to note a significant flexion. This circumstance could suggest that members of the ISIS are not migrating to this technology.

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Intelligence officials fear that the document leaked by Edward Snowden on the NSA capabilities is helping the ISIS to avoid detection.

ISIS has “likely learned a lot from recent unauthorized disclosures, and as many of their forces are familiar with the U.S. from their time in AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], they have adapted well to avoiding detection.” said a U.S. intelligence official said.

Pierluigi Paganini

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