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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

E-Jihadists Take Advantage of Net Technology — Good and Bad

from ZDNet

The arrest of the so-called “jihadist James Bond” is putting the spotlight on how terrorists are using the Internet. Like other criminals, terrorists are taking advantage of zombie techniques, but they’re also simply putting the amazing capabilities of Google and Web 2.0 startups to nefarious use, TechNewsWorld reports.

Many experts quoted in the story reason that terrorists must be using the Internet. “We know criminals are exploiting technology to further their criminal activities, and there’s no reason to believe terrorists aren’t taking advantage of those same technologies,” FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson said. But there’s precious little real information on how they’re using it.

“The story of the presence of terrorist groups in cyberspace has barely begun to be told,” Gabriel Weimann, senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and professor of communication at Haifa University in Israel, concludes in a 2004 report on the subject.

“When policymakers, journalists and academics have discussed the combination of terrorism and the Internet, they have focused on the overrated threat posed by cyber-terrorism or cyber-warfare and largely ignored the numerous uses that terrorists make of the Internet every day,” he explains.

Defense Dept. researchers estimate there are 5,000 radical websites. “Most are chat rooms, and some are used for command and control using some sort of coded language,” said Frank Preston, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin.

The United States Institute of Peace, an organization created by Congress in 1984, categorized terrorists’ uses of the Internet into eight categories: psychological warfare; generating publicity and disseminating propaganda; data mining; fund-raising; recruitment and mobilization; networking; sharing information; and planning and coordination.

“The United States and many of its core allies have traditionally thought of intelligence gathering — or the ability to collect information on an adversary, analyze it and share it — as the providence of developed nations,” Gartner’s Herbert Strauss explained. “But the Internet provides the ability to do all of those things, and it’s available for bad guys as well as good.”

Among the Internet goodies terrorists may be putting to use:

  • Google Earth, which provides must of the detail needed to plan an attack.
  • Online video games like “Quest for Bush,” in which players fight Americans and proceed to different levels including “Jihad Growing Up” and “Americans’ Hell.”
  • YouTube, which unwittingly hosts radical manuals and speeches. “Just look under the term ‘Halaqa’ for a sampling,” says UW’s Preston.
  • Music videos, such as “Dirty Kuffar” (nonbelievers), with rap music and images of Muslims being killed by Americans.
  • Online education, which takes the form of virtual training camps. According to the Department of Homeland Security, these “(reach) a much wider audience and (limit) the intelligence communities’ abilities to track individuals transiting into these camps.”

Terrorists borrow the bad stuff, too.

“Organizations with sloppy server monitors are often ‘zombied’” — or taken over remotely — “for jihadist purposes,” Preston said. “E-jihadists,” as he calls them, then use these zombie servers to host their training manual.

Of all the nefarious purposes terrorists use the Internet for, data mining and identity theft by those seeking entry into other countries are perhaps the most insidious of all.

“One Internet user’s sloppy handling of personal data could become a passport for a jihadist,” Preston explained.
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