Buried inside a recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report titled “Use of Internet for Terrorist Purposes” one can carve out details and examples of law enforcement electronic surveillance techniques that are normally kept secret.
The report includes real accounts of investigative techniques countering terrorist groups secure communication systems.
Terrorist groups using computer security
- Point 187: Members of the outlawed Turkish Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) used steganography software called Camouflage to hide messages inside JPEG files and encrypted attachments with WinZip before emailing them. A joint Turkish and Italian police operation managed to decrypt the messages and arrest over a hundred people involved with the organization.
- Point 194: An Alqeda affiliated webmaster managing a jihadist website from Brazil was specifically targeted by the police to grab him by surprise while he was still online to make sure that they would get his encryption keys thanks to which the investigators were able to open all relevant encrypted files.
- Point 280: International members of the guerilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) communicated with their counterparts hiding messages inside images with steganography and sending the emails disguised as spam, deleting Internet browsing cache afterwards to make sure that the authorities would not get hold of the data. Spanish and Colombian authorities cooperated to break the encryption keys and successfully deciphered the messages.
- Point 374: German citizens members of a group called Islamic Jihad Union used the dead email inbox trick to communicate in between them, the suspects did not send the email to prevent wire tipping in transit, saving the messages to the draft folder instead for the other part to read and reply, coupled with accessing the Internet using insecure wireless access points of unsuspecting citizens with one of the suspects using encryption which forensics expert tried to access and failed.
Law enforcement vs terrorists digital arsenal
- Point 198: It explains how an investigator can circumvent Truecrypt plausible deniability feature (hidden container), advising computer forensics investigators to take into consideration during the computer analysis to check if there is any missing volume of data.
- Point 201: Mentions a new covert communications technique using software defined high frequency radio receivers routed through the computer creating no logs, using no central server and extremely difficult for law enforcement to intercept.
- Point 210: Explains how Remote Administration Trojans (RATs) can be introduced into a suspects computer to collect data or control his computer and it makes reference to hardware and software keyloggers as well as packet sniffers.
- Point 228: Talks about a honeypot jihadist website created by the CIA and the Saudi Government to attract and monitor terrorists, leading to the arrest of jihadists before they could carry out their operations but finally having to dismantle their own website when law enforcement realised that it was also being used to plan attacks against US troops in Iraq.
- Point 378: Explains how during an Alqeda case in Belgium and after an informal request without any kind of warrant within two weeks the FBI managed to provide Belgian authorities with a CD containing relevant emails data held in US servers voluntarily provided by Yahoo and Microsoft.