In the early 2010s, terrorist groups exploited the mass communication technologies that quickly emerged during the advent of social media, enabling them to easily reach untapped global audiences with their ideology and messaging. Their success quickly gained the attention of government and private sector authorities, resulting in more robust counterterrorism strategies to target and remove the online content.
Today, global terrorists and violent extremist groups are innovatively sidestepping the stricter online content restrictions that have taken hold in recent years by reverting to online platforms and methods that were more common in the early and mid-2000s. A recent report from Tech Against Terrorism, a research outlet supported by the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, found that rather than continuing to organize on conventional platforms, various terrorist groups are operating and managing static websites, forums and blogs in an effort to evade detection by law enforcement.
Terrorist Operated Websites
According to the report, terrorist groups are running at least 198 websites on the surface web. In-depth analysis of 33 of the most prominent websites – run by actors such as Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the Taliban – confirms that these sites have 1.54 million monthly visitors. There is very little restriction on the type of media that can be shared on a website, which allows for uncensored dissemination of propaganda in various mediums including text, video and images. These sites can act as an archive of historic terrorist content that would otherwise be removed from mainstream messaging and social media spaces. They also provide users with direct communication channels by allowing comments and including contact pages.
This resurgence of the use of terrorist operated websites (TOWs) is increasing opportunity for radicalization, while also providing a greater ability for independent bad actors to access tools and guidance to perpetrate lone-wolf attacks.
Intelligence Informed Security Plans
A thorough and comprehensive understanding of how terrorists are using the internet today is central to gaining intelligence on their activities. It is the functional ability to "predict" when, where and how an attack may occur. Organizations of all sizes must be prepared with a comprehensive security program that is informed by accurate and near-real-time intelligence.
MSA Security’s Intelligence Team identifies and analyzes all-hazard global threats, providing a detailed understanding of the current and evolving threat environment in near-real time. Analysts with backgrounds in military, law enforcement, journalism and academia leverage their knowledge and experience to monitor and analyze the online activity of hostile actors – including TOWs. They utilize more than 25 social media data sources and millions of URLs in the index web in over 200 languages to collect and evaluate data. That insight is provided in daily, weekly and tailored reporting to communicate the threats most likely to impact a specific organization.
Extremist groups will continue to adjust their strategies, methods and tradecraft. This is especially true during periods of worldwide uncertainty and military action, which often spurs heightened planning, activity and retaliatory attacks. It is imperative that businesses remain vigilant. A strong and layered security posture includes capitalizing on every tool and resource designed to mitigate risk to operations, infrastructure and personnel.