Counter-Terrorism: India's Internet Threat

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June 16, 2012: Indian counter-terrorism officials are alarmed at the growing use of the Internet by terrorists planning and launching attacks in India. Nearly all attacks on India in the past four years have used the Internet for planning and, sometimes, for communications during the attacks themselves. The most valuable tool has been VOIP (telephone calls over the Internet), which allows terrorists with smart phones to send encrypted and difficult to detect phone calls over the Internet. This has worked because the terrorists operating in India have avoided aspects of Internet communications that can be detected and traced. It wasn't always that way.

Cell phones and the Internet have been a major boost for Islamic terrorists but not all of them. For lower ranking terrorists, the ability to easily communicate with like-minded people is a boon to recruiting, fund raising, planning, and morale in general. However, the higher you get up the food chain, the more likely that use of these electronic devices will get you noticed by the police. This makes it clear that the police do not have unlimited capabilities in this area. Naturally, the intelligence people stay quiet about exactly what they can do. But from what is known, terrorists using cell phones and the Internet tend to get noticed.

The fact that the top people have given up use of the Internet and cell phones has not made much of an impression on those lower down in the terrorist pecking order. These lower ranking guys are younger, less wise, and more inclined to believe they can outsmart the lawmen. There are plenty of ways to mess with people trying to tap into your Internet use. Email can be encrypted or you can save drafts of email, without sending them, with your recipient having access to your email account (and thus being able to call up drafts). VOIP phone calls over the Internet, like Skype, are encrypted. However, all those precautions can be overcome by the intel people if a particular individual is considered worthy enough of intense scrutiny. Some of these obstacles slow down the cops but, as many imprisoned terrorists have to come to discover, the Internet is a vulnerable communications channel if someone is really out to get you.

Terrorists, especially those in India, have adapted and improvised in several ways, like inventing their own code words for things while chatting on cell phones or email. But that still makes it possible to know where they are. The greatest amount of care must be taken when planning attacks. This is where the smarter terrorists avoid cell phones and the Internet. But for actually carrying out the attacks, the cell phone and Internet can, as the Indian terrorists have demonstrated, still be effective. This does not make the terrorists invincible, as in the aftermath of attack clues about Internet use can be found and pursued.

India has also found a correlation between the number of Internet based crimes and increased terrorist use of the Internet. For example, in 2007, there were 217 cases of Internet based crime. Five years later there are ten times as many and the terrorists have acquired methods and skills from Internet criminals by working with them. A growing number of Islamic terrorists are funding their operations with Internet based crime and that provides cash as well as useful skills for the attacks.

 

 


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