CIO East Africa (Nairobi)

22 June 2014

Kenya: Al Qaeda Using New Encryption Software to Defy U.S. Intelligence Tracking

A new report shows that Al Qaeda and associate firms are using new encryption software in a bid to defy US intelligence tracking.

The report from an intelligence firm called Recorded Future states that since 2007, Al-Qaeda's use of encryption technology has been based on the Mujahideen Secrets platform which has developed to include support for mobile, instant messaging, and Macs.

Following the June 2013 Edward Snowden leaks about the National Security Agency's intelligence programme, the study also reveals an increased pace of innovation, specifically on new competing jihadist platforms and three major new encryption tools from three different organizations - GIMF, Al-Fajr Technical Committee, and ISIS - within a three to five-month time frame of the leaks.

Al-Qaeda (AQ) has been using encryption technology in various forms for a long time. The original Mujahideen Secrets is the most common one, but recently there have been multiple new encryption products as well as adaptations to new platforms like mobile, instant messaging, and Mac.

"The nature of these new crypto products indicates strategy to overlay stronger and broader encryption on Western (mainly US) consumer communication services. We do not find evidence of abandonment of US-based consumer communication services. Likely risks are still greater to hide outside the consumer crowd, and non-US-based services may be exposed to even stronger lawful intercept," stated the study

The Recorded Future timeline also laid out key developments from 2007 to date and according to them, the original Mujahideen Secrets (Asrar al-Mujahideen) encryption software launched in 2007 was primarily for use with email. Asrar has had multiple releases over time and is distributed by the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF).

The second crypto Development was Asrar al-Dardashah, released by GIMF in February 2013, which is an encryption plugin for instant messaging based on the Pidgin platform - which connects to major US-based platforms. Later on, GIMF released Tashfeer al-Jawwal in September 2013 based on Symbian and Android and is a mobile encryption program.

Asrar al-Ghurabaa is yet another alternative encryption program, however importantly, released in November 2013 by Islamic State Of Iraq And Al-Sham (ISIS), which coincides with ISIS breaking off from main AQ after a power struggle and Amn al-Mujahid is an alternative encryption program released in December 2013. In this case from Al-Fajr Technical Committee (FTC) which is also a mainstream AQ outfit.

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