ISIS has been increasingly turning to Telegram Messenger, a popular messaging app that boasts end-to-end encryption and self-destructing messages, to continue spreading its propaganda online and delivering its recruitment message.
ISIS has been posting frequent updates using the app, showing everyday life under the caliphate, the battles, the martyrs, the implementation of Sharia law – public punishments, burning cigarettes, seizing and destroying alcohol, while at the same time encouraging subscribers to invite friends to join the channel.
Telegram, a multi-platform messaging app that puts emphasis on privacy and security was launched just over two years ago by Nikolai and Pavel Durov, the founders of Russia’s popular social network, VK.
Using a recently launched “Channels” feature that allows messages to be sent to unlimited users and followers, the Islamic State has used the platform to create the “Nashir” channel, meaning ‘purveyor’ in Arabic. This is where the terror group broadcasts its frequent propaganda messages.
ISIS also used the platform to claim responsibility for an attack on a hotel in the Yemeni city of Aden, targeting Saudi and Emirati forces. The channel has amassed over 6,000 followers in just over two weeks.
For over a year now, many of the terror organization’s online social media accounts have been removed, and while many new accounts have replaced them, ISIS has constantly been looking to leverage the latest tech advances and social media platform innovations to sustain these pages.
Notorious for its digital exploits as well as its battlefield pursuits, the Islamic State also published a Telegram number in its Dabiq magazine last month, when it offered two hostages the group claimed they were holding for ransom.
Telegram boasts 60 million active monthly users and over 12 billion messages sent daily and differs from other similar messaging apps with cross device synchronization and the ability to transfer large files up to 1.5GB in size.
But where its developers believe the app is most unique is its ability to encrypt messages end-to-end.
Telegram has twice offered a cash reward, most recently $300,000 in a contest earlier this year, baiting contestants to decipher secure messages. Telegram states on its website that there have been no winners so far.
At a TechCrunch Disrupt SF event last month, founder Pavel Durov confirmed that ISIS is using the app to communicate but deflected criticism stating that, “our right for privacy is more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism,” adding that “ISIS will always find a way to communicate within themselves.”
Last week, FBI Director James Comey warned that regarding technology, just as the private industry has adapted, so too have terrorists. In a statement before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Comey said, “Unfortunately, changing forms of Internet communication and the use of encryption are posing real challenges to the FBI’s ability to fulfill its public safety and national security missions.”
Earlier this month, a 15-year-old British teenager was sentenced to life in prison in the ANZAC Day terror plot, an ISIS-inspired attempted terror attack in Australia that encouraged fanatics to behead people.
During the trial, the court heard evidence that the then-14-year-old and his co-conspirator in Australia had exchanged 3000 messages using the Telegram app.