The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) uses a 34-page manual to instruct its followers on how to stay invisible on the Internet.
The Arabic document was translated and released this week by analysts at the Combating Terrorism Center, an independent research group at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
It includes warnings to avoid Instagram because it is owned by Facebook, and Dropbox because former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sits on its board of investors. Famous government leaker Edward Snowden has also criticized Dropbox over its privacy, the document notes.
Users are also directed to use Apple’s encrypted FaceTime and iMessage features over regular unencrypted text and chat features.
“This short guide ask God's faithfulness in it, and we hope to be published and participation on a wider scale,” the document concludes.
The center's research comes in the wake of the devastating ISIS attacks in Paris that killed more than 120 people and wounded hundreds more.
On Tuesday, the center also revealed a 24-hour “help desk” that ISIS maintains to help potential jihadists encrypt their communications in order to evade authorities.
These discoveries have stoked the fears of law enforcement and some lawmakers that terrorists are increasingly hiding behind digital tools and leaving investigators blind to potential deadly plots.
Officials and lawmakers believe those behind the Paris attacks likely used some form of encrypted communications while planning their strike, although they acknowledge there is little evidence so far to substantiate these suspicions.
Still, the concerns have spurred a renewed conversation on Capitol Hill about giving the government more ability to crack the encryption used by popular companies like Apple.
While unsurprising, documents showing that ISIS explicitly directs its followers to Apple’s encrypted features are likely to intensify the already mounting pressure on Silicon Valley’s major players to work with the government on decrypting data for investigators.
The tech community has long argued that unbreakable encryption is vital to ensuring digital rights and protecting personal information from hackers and government spies. Others have also argued that American tech firms would lose business to overseas companies if consumers knew the government had been ensured access to their data.
“Let me just tell you something, there are things that are more important than the profitability of a private company,” Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks 91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case MORE (D-Ill.) said Tuesday when asked about Apple and other tech companies’ opposition to any guaranteed encryption entry point for government. “I think security of the United States is.”
The ISIS encryption guide goes beyond basic tips about the major digital services. It has full rundowns describing the leading apps, browsers and email services that can help users hide all their digital activity.
The guidelines explain that the online anonymity software Tor “hides your identity and protects you from tracking.” It also runs through software programs, such as VeraCrypt, that can lock down digital files.
To many technologists, none of this is surprising. Encryption is a feature of most people’s regular digital activity, whether they realize it or not. And it’s long been known that ISIS is technologically savvy.
Still, these ongoing revelations could eventually lead to legislation on Capitol Hill that would require companies to decrypt data for the government.
“In the Senate Armed Services we're going to have hearings on it and we're going to have legislation,” Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Ariz.), who chairs the committee, told reporters Tuesday, calling the status quo “unacceptable.”