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Terrorists and extremists are increasingly moving their activities online – and areas of the web have become a safe haven for Islamic State to plot its next attacks, according to a report published today by the Henry Jackson Society.
Terror in The Dark: How Terrorists use Encryption, the Darknet and Cryptocurrencies shows how those planning to commit terrorist atrocities are using extremist networks on the ‘Darknet’ to indoctrinate sympathisers, create a reservoir of propaganda, evade detection and fundraise. It calls for urgent action by government and the policing and security services to step up intelligence gathering and action to counter online extremist activity.
The report shows how terrorists are:
Following the five terror attacks on British soil in 2017, the Government has dedicated more time and funds to the combating of online extremism. However, the report makes a strong case for more attention to be paid to the Darknet, as terrorists mask their actions and intentions unchallenged on a currently anarchic platform. The report recommends:
Report author Nikita Malik, Director at the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society, said:
“The fight against terrorism and extremism takes many forms and is waged on many fronts. We have denied Islamic State territory in the real world, but it has a whole new safe haven in cyberspace which we need first to understand and then to close down.
“Extremists have used the Darknet to mask their communications and propaganda efforts; to recruit and radicalise; and to get their hands on weapons and fraudulent documents which can help them launch terrorist attacks.
“The authorities must move urgently to increase their knowledge of terrorists’ activities in cyberspace and their use of technologies such as bitcoin. Regulation in this area has to move carefully if we are to balance liberties with guarding against threats to our security – but the time has come to deny extremists the space they need online to plan fresh atrocities.”
The Rt Hon. Lord Trimble, former First Minister of Northern Ireland and current member of Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, endorsed the report, saying:
“This report is a remarkable contribution to the literature on the use of the Darknet by criminals and terrorists.
“While the first decade of the century was defined by the battle against jihadist ‘safe havens’ – physically located in Afghanistan, north-west Pakistan, Yemen and so on – this report draws attention to the possible rise of ‘virtual safe havens’: encrypted communication channels, hidden portions of the internet, cryptocurrency accounts that are not registered with any banks and more.
“While there is no doubt that these new technologies can provide a huge social benefit, this report outlines recommendations to ensure that this benefit is not used to the advantage of criminals and terrorists.”
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, Labour’s Shadow Spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, commented:
“This is a deeply disturbing report, illustrating how extremist content and instructional terrorist material, as well as funding campaigns to raise money for terrorist groups, can be found on the internet – with varying degrees of accessibility.
“It brings into the light of day things we may well have heard about; material we may even think we know about. And it reveals just how ignorant we are. The author has laid bare by her meticulous research matters that threaten our domestic, social and national life.
“This report stresses that UK regulation must be created specifically for auditing the internet, in which transparency and accountability can be guaranteed. It is about time we addressed these issues, and the Government should carefully consider the recommendations made within this welcome report.”
Read the full report here.