The Islamic State (ISIS) is now an international organization with many layers of complexity and logistical demands. And like any sprawling organization with a digital presence, it needs tech support.
According to an NBC News report, ISIS staffs a “24-hour Jihadi Help Desk” designed to support its myriad activities, including but not limited to carrying out terror plots like Friday’s attacks in Paris.
The help desk members, roughly six jihadists, “answer questions from the technically mundane to the technically savvy to elevate the entire jihadi community to engage in global terror,” counterterrorism analyst Aaron F. Brantly told NBC News.
It’s not an entirely surprising revelation when you consider the level of coordination and planning necessary to carry out coordinated attacks like the ones in France. Most analysts now believe that ISIS is using end-to-end encrypted technology for communications, although there are early signs that the planning around Paris also used unencrypted messaging.
In any case, encryption won’t make a difference if ISIS members do not understand the tools, or if they have issues with their smartphones or forget their passwords. In that respect, their need for tech support is not much different from most people’s.
The existence of a help desk gives further credence to the idea that ISIS is using sophisticated and encrypted tools — and instead of relying on individual members to use those tools properly, it has established best practices and centralized tech support.
As new end-to-end encrypted communication tools (such as WhatsApp and the Telegram app) come online, Brantly told NBC News, the ISIS help desk creates manuals and training materials. Such a group could also set standards for which smartphones to use, which apps to install, even password management.
What’s notable about the report, though, is that it doesn’t appear as if all the tech training and help desk activities are under the cloak of full encryption. Some of the information is shared via Twitter accounts or on YouTube videos. It’s possible that some of the information the ISIS help desk provides could serve, in part, as a recruitment tool in itself.
Having a sort of IT department for terrorists would also mean ISIS can more readily switch communication protocols and tactics, making it that much harder for intelligence and law enforcement agencies to keep track and keep up.