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This seminar was based on a study of jihadi forums and what they reveal about the cyber capacity and aspirations of jihadis. The study reveals that chat room participants are turning to one another with increasing frequency to learn best practices for digital operational security. It finds that even low-level users are enquiring about the security of popular platforms such as Skype, Google, Gmail, WhatsApp and Tor Mail. Individuals with higher levels of technical acumen regularly warn those inquiring about such commonly used products and point them to other tools, among which are some often used to safeguard human and democracy rights activists around the world. Many of these programs or tools were developed with the expressed intent of protecting individuals working in dangerous situations by providing added security for their operations. These same tools, often funded in part by the US government, NGOs, corporations and others, are now being used for illicit purposes. Programs such as Tor, Tails, DuckDuckGo, StartPage, PhotoMe Beta, ExifTool, MetaNull, Jitsi, JustPasteIt, Silent Circle and several others are being openly discussed on jihadi forums, often accompanied by well-written Arabic documents explaining their implementation and use. There are also numerous discussions on how to bypass security mechanisms such as registered emails and phone numbers so that individuals can take advantage of more popular platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for propaganda purposes.


Dr Aaron F. Brantly is Assistant Professor of International Relations and Cyber in the Department of Social Sciences, Cyber Policy Fellow at the Army Cyber Institute and Cyber Fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Georgia and a Master's of Public Policy from American University. His research focuses on national security policy issues in cyberspace including big data, terrorism, intelligence, decision-making and human rights.

The meeting was chaired by Sir John Jenkins, Executive Director, IISS–Middle East. It took place at the IISS–ME office in the Kingdom of Bahrain, 14th Floor GBCorp Tower, Bahrain Financial Harbour, Manama.

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Event details

Discussion Meeting
Dr Aaron Brantly, Cyber Fellow, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
IISS–Middle East, Manama
Sunday 15 May 2016, 5–6.30pm AST

Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

August–September 2016

This issue of Survival features Kristin Ven Bruusgaard on Russia's approach to strategic deterrence, James E. Doyle critiquing US plans to modernise the country's nuclear arsenal, and much more.