Terrorists and extremists are increasingly moving their activities online – and areas of the web have become a safe haven for Islamic State to plot its next attacks, according to a report published today by the Henry Jackson Society.
Terror in The Dark: How Terrorists use Encryption, the Darknet and Cryptocurrencies shows how those planning to commit terrorist atrocities are using extremist networks on the ‘Darknet’ to indoctrinate sympathizers, create a reservoir of propaganda, evade detection and fundraise. It calls for urgent action by government and the policing and security services to step up intelligence gathering and action to counter online extremist activity.
The report shows how terrorists are:
- Using encrypted apps such as Telegram to hide, communicate and plan attacks.
- Drawing interested sympathizers from the “surface” world of the web into the Darknet in order to recruit and indoctrinate new supporters.
- Building up reservoirs of propaganda – saving it from deletion by the security services or tech companies and removing it as potential evidence for use by law enforcement.
- Using cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin to fundraise, taking advantage of the anonymity they offer.
Following the five terror attacks on British soil in 2017, the UK government has dedicated more time and funds to the combating of online extremism. However, the report makes a strong case for more attention to be paid to the Darknet, as terrorists mask their actions and intentions unchallenged on a currently anarchic platform. The report recommends:
- That tech companies should create a self-regulatory system to remove and audit extremist content – and release public annual reports outlining their efforts, including stats on content flagged by users, the outcome of companies’ investigations and areas for improvement.
- That there should be a new internet regulatory body appointed by government, with the role of scrutinizing tech companies’ efforts to remove extremist content – with the potential for fines if companies consistently fail to take down offending material.
- More resources for the Joint Terrorism Action Centre to build up intelligence on the Darknet.
- Social media companies should work with law enforcement to ensure that extremist material is not lost when it is deleted, but is archived – to ensure that we understand extremists’ patterns of behavior online and retain evidence.