U.S.-Based ISIS Cell Fundraising On ‘Dark Web:’ Part Of Wider Trend Of jihadists Seeking Refuge In The ‘Dark Web’ To Avoid Detection By Authorities

U.S.-Based ISIS Cell Fundraising On ‘Dark Web:’ Part Of Wider Trend Of jihadists Seeking Refuge In The ‘Dark Web’ To Avoid Detection By Authorities

Danna Harman, writing on the January 29, 2015 Israel-based, news website, Haaretz, notes that “a Tel Aviv analyst working for a Singapore-based cyber intelligence company, says he has uncovered concrete evidence that a terror cell, purporting to be related to the Islamic State — is soliciting for Bitcoins as part of its fundraising efforts.”

“There has long been evidence that terrorist cells use the Web — including the highly anonymous network found within the ‘Dark Web,’ which is not indexed, or even seen by standard search engines — for both recruiting and fund-raising purposes,” Ms. Harman notes. Concerns have also been expressed that the Islamic State might begin using — Bitcoin — the underground digital currency that allows for anonymous transactions,” online.

“But, this is the first time, says analyst Ido Wulkan, 25, that evidence is being made public linking what claims to be a specific Islamic State cell, to Bitcoin fundraising on the dark web. This could be a one-off fundraising effort,” Wulkan admits, or even — possibly, although very unlikely,” he says, “a hoax, or a joke. But, it could also be pointing to a larger, more worrying trend ” Wulkan’s analysis/findings have been passed on to authorities tracking Islamic State activities,” Haaretz said.

“Due to the increasing efforts of social media websites to close ISIS-related accounts, it was estimated that jihadists would seek refuge in the dark web,” said Wulkan, who is a senior web-intelligence analyst at S2T, a Singapore company that develops big data and cyber intelligence solutions for governments and big corporations. Wulkan was scouring the deep web for a client using S2T’s GoldenSpear data discovery system — as part of a project “having to do with international jihad,” he said, declining to give more details. The purported ISIS fundraising site was tracked down through a referral on a closed Turkish forum; and, linked to other known jihadist sites,” says Wulkan and others at S2T.

“Once on the site, Wulkan found the following message from the group’s fundraiser, a man later identified only as Abu-Mustafa: “Many of us live within the United States, and some are prominent within the community on both coasts,” writes Abu Mustafa. “We are currently working with recent reverts to Islam, and generally training brothers to struggle to establish a new Islamic front — both in the United States, and around the world.” Mustafa goes on to talk about the scarcity of resources, such as money and facilities, which are available to young Muslims in the United States and South America, who want to struggle against “their enemies.”

“Donations may be made through various means, both monetary and physical,” Mustafa explains, ….”though anything besides economic support through Bitcoin must be approved by the board and taken with much caution, due to the security apparatus’ recent crackdown on any and all Islamic change fronts here in the United States.”

“The revelation of this deep web site comes after the publication last July, of a pro-ISIS blog, titled, “Bitcoin And The Charity Of Violent Physical Struggle,” “In it,” Ms. Harman writes, “a man identified as Taqi’ul-Deen al-Munthir argued that in order for the Islamic State to fund its terror operations, it needed to go outside the Western financial system. One cannot send a bank transfer to a mujahid [Islamic fighter], or suspected mujahid, without the kafir [infidel] governments ruling today immediately being aware,” he wrote on his blog.

“Al-Munthir called on ISIS supporters to encrypt their financial transactions, by means of the so-called “Dark Wallet,” — making it harder for state agencies fighting terrorism to track the transactions. This allows our brothers stuck outside of the ardh Dawlatul-Islam [Islamic State], to avoid government taxes, along with secretly fund [sic] the Mujahideen, with no legal danger upon them,” reads the post.

Al-Munthir “also extolled the ‘Silk Road’ — an online digital [black market]place running mostly on Bitcoin, and accessible, as are all sites on the dark web; only through a Tor network (a software protocol that reroutes web traffic through hundreds of servers and computers — to conceal identities). Both Silk Road and Silk Road 2 were recently shut down by the FBI,” Ms. Harman wrote — though other digital, black market sites have taken their place. “Despite this red flag indicating ISIS’s interest in Bitcoin, says Wiulkan, there was no information made public as to whether ISIS cells had actually set up accounts into which Bitcoin could be transferred — until now.” “There was smoke, and now, we’ve found the fire,” Wulkan added.

According to the London-based Quilliam Foundation, the world’s first counter extremist think tank, finding such evidence of Bitcoin fundraising on the dark web should not surprise anyone. Attempts to block extremist material online….will always fail…” they wrote in a recent position paper about the British government’s attempts to shutter extremist activity on the web. The terrorist material appears on the Internet as quickly as it is banished; and, the policy risks driving fanatics on to the “dark web,” where they are even harder to track.”

Wulkan and others at S2T contend that Abu Mustafa’s group left a Bitcoin account number showing that it managed to raise five Bitcoin, worth approximately, at the time, $1,000. The account, Wulkan said, has since been seized and shut down by the FBI.”

“But, even if the Islamic State fundraising for Bitcoins on the dark web is a phenomena one might expect to see more of, observers note that, at present, it still represents only the tinniest drop in the bucket for the terror group,” Ms. Harman concludes. “Available intelligence suggests the Islamic State is managing to raise hundreds of millions of dollars — mainly through illicit activities such as kidnapping, extortion, and straight out theft. Last summer, the Islamic State reportedly stole over $425M worth of Iraqi dinars from Mosul’s central bank, making it the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest terror groups in the world.”

Use Of Bitcoin Not As Anonymous As Previously Thought

If there is any good news regarding this story, it is that Bitcoin anonymity is not as secure as many used to think. Late last year, three University of Luxembourg researchers said they have identified techniques that can be used to determine the identities of anonymous Bitcoin users — for between 11 percent and 60 percent of all Bitcoin transactions,– depending on how stealthy [the] attacker wants to be,” according to a December 30, 2014 article on the website, BankInfoSecurity, by Matthew Schwartz. “Deanonymizing a Bitcoin user means tying their pseudonym — which serves as a public key — to the IP address from which they trade Bitcoins. The researchers say their attack requires only about $2,000 worth equipment.”

“The researchers also say they can defeat users who attempt to hide behind firewalls, or network address translation, by “abusing” Bitcoin countermeasures designed to block distributed, denial-of-service attacks. The researchers also claimed they could unmask up to 60 percent of Bitcoin users who employ the Tor anonymizing network — in an effort to mask their IP address.”

Having said all that, one would expect the digital currency world to adapt and improve their ability to truly hide the origin of the transaction — as, that is one of the primary selling points of the currency in the first place. Bitcoin and no doubt other digital currency contenders are aware that the anonymity they guarantee, may not be as good as advertised; and, are no doubt working to solve these vulnerabilities and gaps. V/R, RCP

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