A Gizmodo report on Tuesday sought to downplay the jihadi tech-support effort, widely described in media reports last week as a 24/7 ISIS help desk. And it’s true, according to the experts: “There is no phone number to call to get technical support,” explained Aaron F. Brantly, an Assistant Professor and Cyber Fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. But that’s just semantics, Brantly told Digital Trends.
“Whether you describe it as a help desk or a connected series of communications and resources, the effect is the same.” How ISIS stays interconnected and whether it operates an official “help desk” matters far less than the very real threat the organization presents. “ISIS answers questions in a variety of venues, co-opts the work of human and democracy rights efforts, and produces their own materials all with the goal of enhancing digital operational security,” Brantly said.
The network structure he describes is sprawling and readily accessible worldwide: “It is multiple platforms, forums, telegram, social media, justpaste.it links, dump links, and much more. We have cataloged hundreds of posts and hundreds of pages of documents co-opted or created by ISIS,” he said.
Original Post: In what is surely the single most insidious case of excellent customer service, a new report from NBC News has revealed the existence of a 24/7 Jihadi Help Desk, meant to spread the extremist propaganda of ISIS via the Internet worldwide.
The terror organization, which has already become alarmingly adept in terms of its social media targeting and advertising tactics, is so intent on spreading its message of hate that it has even established this all-hours online service, which is operated by six senior members of the organization. As NBC reports, the “express purpose” of the Jihadi Help Desk is aiding “would-be jihadists use encryption and other secure communications in order to evade detection by law enforcement and intelligence authorities.”
While the democratization of the web has largely served as a net positive for the world’s citizens, ISIS’ leveraging of the Internet has given rise to new fears about true connectivity. The help desk seems to have been operational for around a year, though officials believe that efforts have recently been redoubled toward making the platform more accessible and useful to other terrorists.
“They’ve developed a series of different platforms in which they can train one another on digital security to avoid intelligence and law enforcement agencies for the explicit purpose of recruitment, propaganda and operational planning,” Aaron F. Brantly, a counterterrorism analyst at the Combating Terrorism Center, an independent research organization at the United States Military Academy at West Point, told NBC. “They answer questions from the technically mundane to the technically savvy to elevate the entire jihadi community to engage in global terror.”
Many law enforcement agents have expressed concern over ISIS’ increasingly sophisticated attacks — the recent violence in Paris seemed to require extensive coordination, and some believe that this level of complexity was only made possible by ISIS’ technical prowess.
“This is much different than a normal lone wolf-inspired attack,” Patrick M. Skinner, a former CIA operations officer turned security consultant told The New York Times. “This was choreographed. The fact that they could do this, especially in Paris, where the intelligence service is really good, clearly there’s a hole somewhere.”
Brantly echoed this sentiment, noting that the Jihadi Help Desk is just one tool that “enables [ISIS] to communicate and engage in operations beyond what used to happen, and in a much more expeditious manner. They are now operating at the speed of cyberspace rather than the speed of person-to-person communications.”
Of course, allied forces are hitting back with technology of our own — the U.K. recently announced a significant budget increase for cybersecurity efforts, and online activists Anonymous have also pledged war against ISIS.