The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group (ISIS) has reportedly been developing a new Android mobile application to enable secure communications among members. The new app called "Alrawi" has recently been discovered by the Ghost Security Group (GSG) and joins "Amaq Agency," another app believed to be used by ISIS for news and recruitment.
Previous digital initiatives of the militant group has leveraged the likes of messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram. These applications already allow users to send encrypted messages, but it appears that ISIS is keen on developing an app that independently provides them with their own secure communication channels.
The GSG is an independent counter-terrorism network. It is the same hacking collective who pointed out last month that ISIS members used Telegram to ultimately download the Amaq Agency app. In October last year, the official ISIS channel on Telegram was reportedly followed by nearly 9,000 users in less than a week. The instant messaging app eventually responded by suspending 78 public IS-related channels in 12 languages.
In a statement given to Newsweek, a spokesperson for the group said, "The Amaq Agency app is designed to distribute propaganda where their the other app they are circulating - Alrawi - has limited encrypted communications abilities. The encryption is not as robust as what you would find coming out of a companies R&D labs but it does stand to prove that they are making efforts to encrypt their own communications to some degree."
Moreover, the GSG has been involved in monitoring and taking down ISIS social media accounts and websites over the last year. They claim to have removed approximately 57,000 social media accounts related to the militant group that are used for propaganda and recruitment purposes.
Last week, the hacking collective then discovered and announced that ISIS were using Alrawi, which is similar to the Amaq Agency app but has additional "encrypted communications features, although rudimentary to Telegram or other more company-created ones." The app supposedly shields its users from having their texts intercepted. It is not possible to download Alrawi from Google Play so users must have been installing it from third-party sources.
In the past months, FBI Director James Comey and others key figures in the U.S. national security apparatus have argued that governments must put policies in place that will require services like WhatsApp to build "back doors" into their encryption, Fortune reports. This move is intended to allow law enforcement to intercept terrorist communications more easily.
ISIS apparently values the importance of secure communications to disseminate information to its active and prospective members. In November last year, an OPSEC manual believed to be used by the militant group to help followers cloak their digital communications had surfaced online.