ISIS has build its own secure Android Messaging app for its communications and propaganda needs
The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has developed its own Android-based, encrypted messaging app to enable secure communications between the group’s members and to stay away from the prying eyes of security agencies.
ISIS has been finding it difficult to use social networks such as Telegram and WhatsApp after groups such as Anonymous have been actively trying to disrupt what they get up to online.
Ghost Security Group, an independent counter terrorism network discovered on Monday that an app called Alrawi is being used to send encrypted messages. They had first uncovered the app in 2015 alongside a separate app used by ISIS for news and recruitment.
Last month, Ghost Security and others, observed ISIS members using private messages on the Telegram app and direct messages on Twitter to send followers to a site (since vanished) to download the Amaq Agency app.
“The application’s primary purpose is for propaganda distribution. Using the app you are able to follow the most recent news and video clips.” Ghost Security representatives told Defense One. The Amaq Agency has known ties to Islamic State and issued statements in support of the attackers in the recent California shootings before all the details were publicly available.
Shortly after, Ghost Security discovered a separate app called Alrawi.apk, or just “the Alrawi app,” Initially, they believed it to resemble the Amaq Agency app. But on January 11, they discovered “encrypted communications features although rudimentary to Telegram or other more-company created ones,” a Ghost Security representative added.
While both the Alrawi app and the Amaq Agency app use the Android mobile operating system, they are not available through the Google Play store. Instead, in order to run it on their smartphones or tablets, ISIS supporters are required to download the app’s code.
“The Amaq Agency app is designed to distribute propaganda where their other app they are circulating – Alrawi – has limited encrypted communications abilities,” a spokesperson for Ghost Security group tells Newsweek.
“The encryption is not as robust as what you would find coming out of a companies R&D labs but it does stand to prove that they are making efforts to encrypt their own communications to some degree. I believe it would be safe to assume that the future of ISIS online may be apps.”
Over the last year, Ghost Security Group, formerly known as GhostSec, has been involved in tracking and closing down ISIS social media accounts and websites. They claim to have removed around 57,000 ISIS social media accounts used for recruitment and propaganda purposes. Previously, the counter terrorism group has told Newsweek that it believes ISIS is in the process of hiring hackers to help in a “cyber jihad” against the West.
“After the US drone strike against [prominent ISIS hacker] Junaid Hussain, the cyber caliphate’s effectiveness has declined dramatically and they currently pose little threat to Western society in terms of data breaches, however that is subject to change at any time,” a spokesperson for Ghost Security Group said.
“The Islamic State is recruiting heavily, which opens the possibilities for them to find skilled technical individuals to carry out cyberattacks but currently we have not encountered any which we would deem as a severe threat.”
In order to distribute propaganda to its followers and recruit potential jihadists, ISIS has used a wide range of social media platforms. However, following shutdowns by Facebook and Twitter in 2015, the group turned to the encrypted messaging platform Telegram, gathering thousands of followers across various channels. At one point, the official ISIS channel on Telegram had over 9,000 users. In November, Telegram collapsed under online pressure and started removing ISIS-related channels.
“We were disturbed to learn that Telegram’s public channels were being used by ISIS to spread their propaganda,” Telegram said in a statement released to its users. “As a result, this week alone we blocked 78 ISIS-related channels across 12 languages.”
As noticed by Newsweek, dozens of public and private channels still remain active, some with as many as 2,000 followers. ISIS is not the only terrorist organization using Telegram as a messaging and propaganda platform, according to security analysts. An adviser to the US Congress and co-founder of national security firm Kronos Advisory, Michael Smith claims that Al-Qaeda also uses Telegram to communicate with journalists and spread news to its followers.
In recent months, FBI Director James Comey and others within the U.S. national security apparatus have argued that governments should require services like WhatsApp to build back doors into their encryption so law enforcement can more easily intercept terrorist communications.