The Washington Post has a very interesting story today on the extent to which terrorist groups are increasingly wary about how their internet-based activity can be tracked or monitored:
The Internet has long been a convenient gathering place for radical Islamists advocating violence against Western influences, known as jihadists. Through online chat, e-mail and Web postings, communities of people have relied on one another for advice, political debate, even movie reviews and biographical information on suicide bombers and religious leaders.
Recently, postings on jihadist Web sites have expressed increasing concern about spyware, password protection, and surveillance on chat rooms and instant-messaging systems.
One forum recently posted a guide for Internet safety and anonymity on the Internet, advising readers of ways to circumvent hackers or government officials.
“The Shortened Way of How to be Cautious; To the User of the Jihadi Forums, In the Name of Allah, the most Gracious and Merciful” was posted last month by an al-Qaeda-affiliated group calling itself the Global Islamic Media Front and was translated by the SITE Institute, a group that tracks international terrorist groups…
Google Inc. and its growing arsenal of powerful software tools, for example, are both a boon and a bane for terrorist technologists who are increasingly wary that the programs might be turned against them to gather information about their activities. One of the jihadist Web sites cautioned its readers to “Beware of Google!!!” with specific warnings about its relatively new product Google Toolbar. The posting cited another technology blog that said the tool could be configured to operate like spyware, finding data on computers remotely.
The only constant in terrorist tradecraft has always been adaptation, so it’s not surprising to see new caution in response to things like spyware and advanced search tools. This creates new challenges for U.S. intelligence efforts, but on the flipside, it also makes it slightly more difficult for terrorists to communicate with each other and conduct recruiting activities online.
This will likely be a cat-and-mouse game for years to come. It will not be easy to keep pace with new efforts by terrorists to mask or hide activity, given the ubiquity of tools that enable privacy and security, but it’s worthwhile in my opinion for intelligence agencies to try to stay ahead of the curve.