Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Terror on the Internet - Conflict of Interest

Insightful article by Greg Goth, discussing various aspects of the pros and cons of monitoring cyber jihadist sites next to shutting them down, as well as mentioning my analysis of the Mujahideen Secrets encryption tool v1.0 and v2.0. Terror on the Internet: A Complex Issue, and Getting Harder :

"Indeed, politicians around the world call at regular intervals for terrorist websites to be removed from their host sites’ servers or for search engines to block access to them. They also call for laws that would make posting instructions on how to kill or maim people or destroy property punishable by law. Franco Frattini, the European Commission’s Vice President for Freedom, Justice, and Security, called for a prohibition on websites that post bomb-making instructions in September 2007. And just as quickly, he rushed to announce that in doing so he was not trying to impinge on freedom of speech or information access or to inhibit law enforcement agencies from monitoring sites."

There're three perspectives related to cyber jihad, should the virtual communities be shut down, monitored, or censored so that they cannot be accessed by people who would potentially get radicalized and brainwashed by the amazingly well created propaganda in the form of interactive multimedia? Given the different mandates given to different intelligence services and independent researchers, is where the conflict of interest begins. Moreover, don't forget that independent researchers sometimes come up with the final piece of the puzzle to have an intelligence agency come up with the big picture in a cost-effective and timely manner, given they actually believe in OSINT and trust the source of the intell data of course. Now, picture the situation where an intelligence agency is shutting down cyber jihadist sites on a large scale not believing in the value that the intelligence data they they could provide, another one given a mandate to censor cyber jihadist communities compiling reports stating that someone's shutting them down before they could even censor them, and a third one who would have to again play cat and mouse game the locate them once they've shut down by the first intel agency already. Ironic or not, different mandates and empowerment is where the contradiction begins. Let's discuss the three mandates and go in-depth into the pros and cons of each of them to come up with a philosophic solution to the problem, as I belive it's perhaps the only way to provoke some thought on the best variant.

Shutting the communities down -
Before shuting them down you need to know where they are, their neighbourhood of supporters who will indirectly tip you on the their latest location once they have their previous domain shut down. Personal experience and third party research indicates that over 90% of the cyber jihadist communities/blogs are hosted by U.S based not owned companies. And with the lack of real-time intell sharing between the agencies themselves, the first who picks up the community will be responsible for its faith, literally. But in reality, preserving the integrity of a cyber jihadist community, and convincing the right people that balanced monitoring next to shutting it down is more beneficial, remains an idea yet to be considered. Back in 2007, I did an experiment, namely I crawled ten cyber jihadist forums and blogs and extracted all the outgoing links from these communities to see their preferred choice for online video and files hosting. A couple of months later, the communities got shut down, so when the same thing happened while I was crawling the Global Islamic Media Front's, and Inshallahshaheed's web presence, it became clear that while some are crawling, and others censoring, third parties are shutting them down.

The bottom line - shutting them down doesn't mean that they'll dissapear and will never come back, exactly the opposite. Personal experience while handling the Global Islamic Media Front is perhaps the perfect and best hands-on experience on the benefits of shutting them down, given you've built enough convidence in your abilities to locate their new location. If you think that the cyber jihadist site or community you're currently monitoring is a star, look above, it's full of starts everywhere, once you start drawing the lines between them, a figure of something known emerges, in this case once a cyber jihadist community is shut down, its most loyal and closely connected cyber jihadist communities will expose their intimate connection not by just starting to promote their new location online, but even better, you'll have them use the second cyber jihadist community to directly reach their audience by the time they set up the new location and resume the propaganda and radicalization.

There's no shortage of cyber jihadist blogs, forums and sites, and personal experience shows that upon having a cyber jihadist community shut down, they re-appear at another location. It's shut down again, it re-appears for a second time. I've seen this situation with Instahaleed and GIMF, and each and every time they had their blogs and sites removed from their hosting providers, mainly because it's rather disturbing that the majority of such communities are hosted on U.S servers, it's this short time frame which will either lead you to their new location, you risk loosing their tracks. However, the vivid supporters of PSYOPs are logically visionary enough to understand what does undermining their audiences' confidence in the community's capability to remain online means.

Monitoring the communities -
In order to reach the "shut it down or monitor it" stage in your analysis process, you really need to know where the cyber jihadists forums and sites are, else, you will be wasting your time, money and energy to create fake cyber jihadist communities in the form of web honeypots for jihadist communication. Monitoring is tricky, especially when you don't know what you're looking for, don't prioritize, don't have a contingency plan or an offline copy of the communitiy and wrongly building confidence in its ability to remain online. Moreover, monitoring for too long results in terrabytes of noise, and from a psychological perspective sometimes the rush for yet another fancy social networking graph to better communicate the collected data, ends up in the worst possible way - you miss the tipping point moment.

Censoring the communities -
I often come across wishful comments in the lines of "blocking access to bomb and poison making tutorials", missing a very important point, namely, that these very same manuals, and jihadist magazines are not residing in a cyber-jihad.com/bomb-making-guide.zip domain and file extension form, making the process a bit more complex to realize. Unless of course the censorship systems figures out ways to detect the content in password encrypted archive files served with random file names and hosted on one of the hundreds free web space providers. Then again, given the factual evidence that cyber jihadists are encouraging the use of Internet anonymization services and software, your censorship efforts will remain futile.

As I'm posting this overview of various ways of handling cyber jihadist communities, yet another community is starting to attract cyber jihadists, thanks to their understanding of noise generation by teaching the novice cyber jihadists on the basics of running and maintaing such a community. What's perhaps most important to keep in mind is that, what you're currently analyzing, trying to shut down or censor whatsoever, is the public web, the Dark Web, the one closed behind authentication and invite-only access yet remains to be located and properly analyzed. If cyber jihad is really a priority, then there's nothing more effective than the combination of independent researchers and intelligence analysts.

Internet PSYOPS - Psychological Operations
A Botnet of Infected Terrorists?
Infecting Terrorist Suspects with Malware
The Dark Web and Cyber Jihad
Cyber Jihadist Hacking Teams
Cyberterrorism - don't stereotype and it's there
Tracking Down Internet Terrorist Propaganda
Arabic Extremist Group Forum Messages' Characteristics
Cyber Terrorism Communications and Propaganda
Techno Imperialism and the Effect of Cyberterrorism
A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Cyber Terrorism
Current State of Internet Jihad
Characteristics of Islamist Websites
Hezbollah's DNS Service Providers from 1998 to 2006
Full List of Hezbollah's Internet Sites
Cyber Traps for Wannabe Jihadists
Mujahideen Secrets Encryption Tool
An Analysis of the Technical Mujahid Issue One
An Analysis of the Technical Mujahid Issue Two
Terrorist Groups' Brand Identities
A List of Terrorists' Blogs
Jihadists' Anonymous Internet Surfing Preferences
Samping Jihadist IPs
Cyber Jihadists' and TOR
A Cyber Jihadist DoS Tool
GIMF Now Permanently Shut Down
Steganography and Cyber Terrorism Communications

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