14 February 2016

Islamic State 'help desk' helps members avoid internet surveillance

11 February 2016

Islamic State supporters in the centre of Mosul, Iraq Credit: AP 

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is telling members how to avoid internet surveillance by Western authorities with an online "help desk".

The advice is offered through a channel on encrypted messaging app Telegram, and has about 2,200 members.

The channel is operated by Isil cyber security experts that call themselves the Electronic Horizon Foundation (EHF), researchers from the Middle East Media Research Center told The Hill.

The EHF's goal is to "spread security and technical awareness among the monotheists."

The news that Isil uses Telegram for communications came to the fore after the Paris attacks. Telegram has since shut down more than 660 public Isil-affiliated channels across 12 languages.

Isil released a 34-page operational security manual back in November that covered encryption, safe browsing and secure messaging. It is known to offer further technical support on Telegram channels such the "Islamic State technician", according to the Middle East Media Research Center.

The group translated an announcement that Isil is extending the "help desk" to offer further assistance to those avoiding surveillance.

In it, the EHF said it was created "due to the electronic war and tight surveillance imposed by the Western intelligence apparatuses over internet users."

The Middle East Media Research Center said that the Isil security experts have not posted much yet, but it expects the channel "to take the lead".

The group is likely to focus on defence and privacy rather than launching attacks, said the Middle East Research Center.

#OpISIS: Why Anonymous has declared an online war against Isil - in 90 seconds Play! 01:36 

When hacktivist collective Anonymous declared cyber-war on Isil back in November, the group responded by issuing a five point guide to avoid being hacked. It included the advice to use Telegram to avoid hackers and governments.

Telegram's statement on Isil, saying it had shut down 78 channels 

Telegram was "disturbed" to find out that Isil had been using its service to "spread their propaganda". It has said that it will take down illegal content, but it is committed to free speech.

"For example, if criticising the government is illegal in a country, Telegram won't be part of such politically-motivated censorship. This goes against our founders' principles.

"While we do block terrorist (e.g. ISIS-related) bots and channels, we will not block anybody who peacefully expresses alternative opinions.

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