New ISIS 'help desk' to aid hiding from authorities

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The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has opened up a new technical “help desk” that instructs terrorists on how to hide from Western authorities, according to researchers.  

The Electronic Horizon Foundation (EHF) was launched on Jan. 30 as a joint effort of several of the top ISIS cybersecurity experts, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) said in a new report.

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While researchers have previously uncovered an ISIS “help desk” and 34-page manual that help extremists encrypt their communications, MEMRI said the EHF takes these services to an “alarming” new level.

“Jihadis have long sought technical information, which has been confined in the past to various password-protected jihadi forums,” said the MEMRI report, shared exclusively with The Hill. “However, the freedom and ease by which they can now obtain that information is alarming, especially when such information is shared over private and secure channels.”

The EHF operates on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram but also maintains a Twitter account that disseminates information and directs followers to its secure Telegram channel.

The group’s self-stated goal is clear: “Spreading security and technical awareness among the monotheists.”

According to an announcement celebrating the EHF launch, ISIS has spent a year establishing the group with the goal of “unifying the technical and security efforts, and uniting the ranks of the mujahideen's supporters.”

It brings together several technical support entities, such as the Information Security channel on Telegram and the “Islamic State Technician,” an ISIS security specialist thought to be behind a leading password-protected technical forum.

The announcement, which the MEMRI translated, was also direct that the EHF had been formed "due to the electronic war and tight surveillance imposed by the Western intelligence apparatuses over Internet users, and their tracking and following of the mujahideen and their supporters, and targeting them based on their data and information, which they share over the Internet.”

EHF pledged to provide resources to help combat this surveillance.

“It is time to face the electronic surveillance, educate the mujahideen about the dangers of the Internet, and support them with the tools, directives and security explanations to protect their electronic security, so that they don't commit security mistakes that can lead to their bombardment and killing,” the announcement said.

As of early this week, the EHF Telegram account had over 2,200 members.

MEMRI said EHF has not posted much yet, “but it is expected to take the lead nonetheless in content posted as time goes by.”

If the group follows in the footsteps of its creators, its content will be “defensively-oriented,” such as tutorials on mobile phone security, instead of “offensively-oriented,” such as instructions on launching cyberattacks, MEMRI said.

In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., law enforcement officials have cautioned that potential terrorists are increasingly using encryption to hide from investigators, a phenomenon they call “going dark.”

The warnings have led to some calling for legislation that would guarantee government access to encrypted data, although momentum on Capitol Hill for such a bill has cooled in recent months.

“I don’t think we’re any closer to a consensus on that than we were, I think, six months ago,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffClinton emails dominate Sunday shows Fox News host blasts Dem on Clinton emails: 'I expect more from you' Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on MORE (D-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, said last week. “Or if there is a consensus, it is that a legislative solution, I think, is very unlikely.”