The web-savvy Islamic State terror network has set up a 24-hour ‘Jihadi Help Desk’ manned by IT experts to enable its foot soldiers spread its diabolic message worldwide, recruit followers and launch more attacks on foreign soil, counter-terrorism experts say.
The help desk, manned by a half-dozen senior operatives was established with the express purpose of helping would-be jihadists use encryption and other secure communications in order to evade detection by law enforcement and intelligence authorities, according to counterterrorism analysts affiliated with the US Army.
The Jihadi Help Desk has been described as “a fairly large, robust community” that is anchored by at least five or six core members who are technical experts with at least collegiate or masters level training in IT.
Aaron F Brantly, a counter-terrorism analyst at the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), an independent research organisation at the US Military Academy at West Point, said there are layers of other associates, living all around the world, who allow the service to operate — and respond to questions — at any time of the day or night.
“They answer questions from the technically mundane to the technically savvy to elevate the entire jihadi community to engage in global terror,” Brantly told NBC News.
CTC researchers have spent a year or so monitoring the help desk — and its senior operatives — via online forums, social media and other means.
“They (ISIS are very decentralised. They are operating in virtually every region of the world.”
The help desk workers closely track all of the many new kinds of security software and encryption as they come online, and produce materials to train others in how to use them.
The CTC has obtained more than 300 pages of documents showing the help desk is training everyone from novice militants to the most experienced jihadists in digital operational security, the report said.
Once the help desk operatives develop personal connections with people, ISIS then contacts them to engage them in actual operational planning — including recruiting, fundraising and potentially attacks, the report said.
“They will engage in encrypted person-to-person communications, and these are extremely hard to break into from a cryptographic perspective,” Brantly said.
The relatively new development is alarming because it allows potentially thousands of ISIS followers to move about and plan operations without any hint of activity showing up in their massive collection of signals intelligence, the report said.
Authorities are now homing in on the terror group’s growing cyber capabilities after attacks in Paris, Egypt and elsewhere for which ISIS has claimed credit, it said.