Suspects arrested after Jakarta attack recruited through encrypted app

Suspects arrested after Jakarta attack recruited through encrypted app
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Malaysian police have arrested three suspects they say were recruited by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) using the encrypted app Telegram, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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The arrests are part of a spate of detentions in the region following the recent attack on a Starbucks in Jakarta that killed at least eight people.

Telegram is a free service, available on both computers and mobile devices, that allows users to communicate securely and disseminate public statements. The revelations highlight concerns that ISIS is using the messaging app to recruit followers and plan attacks.

The suspects were reportedly detained by Turkish authorities when they attempted to enter Syria to join ISIS there and were sent back to Malaysia on Jan. 11, where they were arrested on arrival. Police said Saturday that the suspects were lured to the Middle East by a Malaysian national called Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi.

There are roughly 200 ISIS channels on Telegram, each with around 500 to 1,000 followers, estimates Steve Stalinsky, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute.

The app received the second-highest safety recommendation in a recent cybersecurity guide distributed within the ISIS community, although the guide told followers to avoid conversations with unknown people, “cause there are many glitches in telegram and they can hack you by it.”

After unconfirmed reports implicated the app in the planning of the Paris attacks in November, it has been at the center of a debate surrounding terrorist use of encrypted communications to evade surveillance.

Law enforcement officials and some lawmakers have been pushing tech companies to offer some form of guaranteed access to encrypted communications to prevent terrorists and other criminals from “going dark.”

But technology firms have pushed back, arguing that encryption technology not only protects individual privacy, it keeps day-to-day Internet users — users trying to bank online or book a hotel, for example — safe from cyber theft and other crimes. Undermining messaging encryption, they say, will weaken overall Internet security.

Telegram was one of the first apps to cater to privacy advocates’ calls for secure communication channels after Edward Snowden revealed the breadth of U.S. government surveillance.

The company says that it is monitoring its own platform for terroristic content.

Pavel Durov, the app’s founder, tweeted Friday that the company has removed more than 600 public ISIS channels since November, and is continuing to ban between five and 10 a day.

Police also indicated that some of the arrested suspects used Facebook to communicate.