It is 2015 and terrorists who are well equipped with the hi-tech, sophisticated weapons have a remarkable command over technology and online anonymity compared to many security agencies. It has become evident from the fact that all the security and intelligence agencies have admitted to the technologically advanced methods deployed by terrorist organisations like ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, to name a few. According to sources, terror outfits hire talent through sleeper cells and develop “private servers” and special apps for internal communication.
The terrorists use TOR – an Internet browser known for anonymity, VPN hotspot shields, Counter Honeypots, Private Email Servers, Anonymous file sharing techniques for secrecy of their insurgent operations across the world, as per sources. Such advanced technological manipulation is giving security agencies a hard time to cope with them.
It would be right to say that the banned terror outfits are more hi-tech and better updated than the intelligence agencies, as these outfits come up with new technology to dodge security while the agencies remain busy in cracking those technologies.
We all have witnessed the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai, and the skills and technologies of the terror outfit – Lashkar-e-Taiba was unfolded. The terror outfits were much advanced since then. They have used satellite phones, VoIP during the planning stages. Imagine how tech-savvy and powerful they must be in present time – Udhampur and Gurudaspur terror strike are examples where the terror outfit used a “private server” for internal and confidential communication.
After knowing about the improvised technology used by the terror outfits, the security agencies are finding it difficult to tap and track down communication between terrorists. Apart from the exchange of information, funds are also raised using these private servers.
However, the intelligence agencies are learning gradually the advancement in technology adopted by terrorist groups to counter them.
According to sources, the Lashkar-e-Taiba is one of the terror outfits that is technologically sound. “The outfit has a dedicated technology wing with young minds. Initially, they lure young boys studying in engineering colleges or who are working with IT firms and offer them handsome packages. They are used to create private servers and underground websites,” he added.
The trend of “private servers” came after Google Play Store flourished in the android world. Since then the outfits are creating their own applications on the private server. As a result, none of the communication is found in the open space.
Sources claim that these terror organisations have formed modern tech cells that hire young minds who are well-qualified. There modus operandi is to create allurement among graduate engineers or the ones working with software companies by offering a good salary package. Their job is to ensure a secure line of communication, application development, etc. They are being paid in lakhs per month. The funds also come from the radical fundamentalists, religious institutions in India and other neighboring countries.
“The Lashkar has made advancements in the field of technology and other terror outfits, too, have started spending immensely on its tech unit to dodge intelligence agencies,” an official in Intelligence Bureau (IB), requesting anonymity said.
“The tech cell of the Lashkar which also comprises the Pakistan Cyber Army has been tasked with creating applications, setting up servers, and hacking into networks,” another official added.
They are being paid several lakhs of rupees every month. The funding is also done by
religious institutions in India and other neighbouring countries.
“Only important members of the plan and attack are given access to such applications. It is like a closed user group comprising of around 5 to 10 persons who would be involved in the operation for which that particular app is created,” a source said.
An official in the investigation agency, requesting anonymity said: “Tor and Bitcoin are the Internet servers used by terror outfits, whereas Dark Web and SIGAINT mail services are used to dodge the agencies”.
By making use of the Tor service, ISIS and other terrorist groups can discuss and dissipate information related to their cause with no repercussion. And due to the location of information being anonymised the authorities can do little to stop it.
The Tor Network is a network of about 6,000 relays which are servers spread over 89 countries or so. Information is relayed through three of these means in sort of a random order so that your location in the world is different from where you appear to come from. So you know you are sitting here in India, you start up the Tor browser, you could pop out from Japan, Argentina, the United States, as sources inform.
These servers are located in the cloud and are also known as floating servers that cannot be traced. These browsers have multiple level servers, and not one particular server.
“At times, they access unused servers (a computer having Internet connection but not being used by the user) by hacking the IP address. Throughout the usage of the unused server the actual owner remains unaware,” the official said.
By making use of the Tor service the terrorist groups can discuss and dissipate information related to their cause with no repercussion, and due to the location of information being anonymised, the authorities can do little to stop it.
IB officials say that they need to constantly upgrade their own technology in order to get the better of these terror groups. These days a lot of emphasis is laid on cyber space compared to the earlier days when intelligence would pick up information from the ground, the IB officer added.
Must-read excerpts from Dark Net
“Fund the Islamic struggle without leaving a trace,” one site hosted on the Tor network pleads. The site, which is accessible through a standard PC web browser – allows visitors to anonymously donate to a jihadist group that says it has members based in the United States and South America.
“We are currently working with recent reverts to Islam and generally training brothers to struggle to establish a new Islamic front in the U.S and around the world,” the site says. It provides a unique Bitcoin key that visitors can use anonymously to donate to the group. Publicly accessible information shows that that Bitcoin account has been a party to four transactions, all in September of 2012.
“We have found that asking for money indicated for these activities attracts far too much surveillance, and have decided that we would begin to gather resources through the Internet,” the site adds. Through Tor and Bitcoin, the site can do so anonymously.
The violence across the world only seems to be escalating. A conflict with its roots in the 7th century is redefining the ethical responsibilities of 21st-century tech companies. Open channels of communications are tools of war, its resistance, and providing human contact in times of unrest. As images of thousands being marched to death, severed heads, and child soldiers, make their way online, it’s clear the situation right now is very grave.