Social media is often trawled for open source intelligence
Social media is often trawled for open source intelligence

A new report illustrates terrorist groups are adept at evasion of law enforcement electronic surveillance.

Authored by Israeli firm CyberInt, the report notes that as large tech companies give way to government pressure and remove groups, networks and conversations where terrorist sympathies exist, new ones pop up on more obscure platforms, using more complex forms of communications which may prove impervious to detection technology.

"Now that many of these accounts are taken down by social media platforms, there are many tricks that IS online activists are using to evade censorship,” CyberInt VP Elad Ben-Meir said in a statement. Such ‘tricks' include putting spaces in between Arabic letters, or intentionally misspelling words that are legible to correspondents but won't show up in automated scanning tools.

The report points to groups on encrypted messaging app Telegram. CyberInt  found messages promising yet more “operations of invasion and horror” in Europe. Though the message was signed by “soldiers of the Islamic State in France”, the message originated from a group, innocuously titled Publishing Agency News. This simple name, the report says, is emblematic of the simple circumventions that IS sympathisers are now using to get around automated crawling technology.

Social media is considered, rightly or wrongly, a font of open source intelligence for law enforcement and intelligence agencies

That great ocean of mostly trivial information is too deep and wide for any human to sift. The job is in large part outsourced to automated ‘crawlers' which look for keywords or online relationships that might provide investigators with intelligence on terrorist activities.

Increasingly, world leaders are relying on social media to smoke out terrorist sympathisers. After a recent terror attack in the heart of the UK's capital, Theresa May called on large tech companies like Google and Facebook to deny terrorist sentiments the breeding ground they required on social platforms.

Undercutting these overtures has been the fight for state bodies to gain access to encrypted communications, especially those with peer to peer encryption like WhatsApp.

The ‘Crypto Wars' as they are sometimes known have come to a head several times in recent years such as the campaign against the Investigatory Powers Act and legal battles such as the one between Apple and the FBI over unlocking a terrorist's iPhone.