back to article ISIS operates a crypto help desk – report

Radical group ISIS is running a help desk to assist jihadists to use encrypted communications, NBC reports. US Army Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) analyst Aaron F. Brantly says the help desk is a new development which has increased in capacity over the last year. It is manned with six operatives who train recruits on the …

  1. cirby

    They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

    "My bomb vest isn't working."

    "Have you tried turning it off and then on again?"

    "No. Just a sec-"

    1. Hazmoid

      Re: They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

      so does this get recorded as a First call resolution ;)

      1. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

        I don't think they'll be offering any feedback on that call !

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

      "It is manned with six operatives"

      Bonus points for any JobServe adverts...

    3. Simon Harris Silver badge

      "My bomb vest isn't working."

      "What operating system does it use?"

      "Windows Vista"

      ... well, you know the rest.

    4. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

      Icon says it all

    5. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

      The remote in my hand doesnt have an any key on it. Which one is the any key?

    6. Fatman Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

      Terr-orist: <quote>"My bomb vest isn't working."</quote>

      HD """agent""": "Just press that red button."

      Terr-orist: "OK"

      BOOM!!!!!

      HD """agent"""": "Not now, you stupid jihadi!!!"

    7. Joefish
      Coat

      Re: They tried a help desk for the other stuff, but...

      Never gonna get that bonus...

      "Sir, please tell me would you consider the service you received today from this helpdesk to be (a) Very helpful, (b) Quite helpful, (c) Neither helpful nor unhelpful, (d) Slightly unhelpful or (e) Very unhelpful. Please sir, your answer will help us improve our customer service. Sir. Sir?"

  2. MrDamage
    Coat

    So...

    ISIS need a Bastard Operator From Hell, to deal with Bumbling Oafs From Hamas?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "university education"

    How can someone have such cognitive dissonance?

    A university education + radical beliefs.

    A: Religion

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: "university education"

      Depreciation in university education is your answer. It is not a "sieve" which separates the grain from the chaff any more.

      1. Derezed

        Re: "university education"

        Brilliant.

        Said with no irony. What a piece of chaff.

        I know a thoroughly gifted Harvard statistician who is also a devoted Christian. Being exceptionally intelligent and religious are not mutually exclusive, the same goes for being left/right wing. The glib smugness of your inaccurate post makes me cringe. Not religious here by the way.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: "university education"

      Going to uni does not make you more intelligent, just more knowledgeable.

      I've heard that there are Creationists who went to uni in geology in order to debunk the scientific basis of study concerning the Grand Canyon. Now they act as tour guides in the Grand Canyon, saying things like "this valley might have been created by water erosion over millions of years" and other such sentences designed to hint to the fact that it could also have been created a mere 6 thousand years ago.

      Now that may be an urban myth, I don't know, but given that there are people who are ready to kill nurses and doctors in abortion clinics to uphold the "right to life", it is not beyond the realm of the possible.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: "university education"

        I have talked to a Geologist who claimed to have creationists on his course. I have talked to a girl who went to study a pharmacy degree, who beleived that a few hundred years ago everyone lived to much older than now, 100 years plus, in fact they were a complete whack job conspiracy theorist.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "university education"

          unfortunately being an idiot doesn't stop you from studying pharmacy or medicine these days

          1. Voyna i Mor

            Re: "university education"

            "unfortunately being an idiot doesn't stop you from studying pharmacy or medicine these days"

            These days? How old is Ben Carson?

            Degrees have got very compartmentalised, and I think that's the problem. You can be a semiconductor engineer, say, without knowing how what you know fits in with particle physics, thus astrophysics and the Big Bang.

            I came across a physicist not long ago - and I swear I am not making this up - who did not know that holes are not the same thing as positrons. That compartmentalised.

            1. Fink-Nottle

              Re: "university education"

              > Degrees have got very compartmentalised, and I think that's the problem. You can be a semiconductor engineer, say, without knowing how what you know fits in with particle physics, thus astrophysics and the Big Bang.

              It has always been thus. First you learn a little about a lot of stuff, then you learn more and more about less and less until eventually you know everything about nothing.

            2. Brenda McViking

              Re: "university education"

              But holes are not positrons. You can use the analogy as an aid to understanding, but likeall analogies it doesn't stand up to scrutiny if you look into great detail - if it did electron holes would annihilate with electrons and they don't, as shown by the fact that you don't get photons emitted from most semiconductor devices under normal operation. an electron hole is just that - an absence on a electron. It's not a particle of antimatter. It realeases energy which we like to call the band-gap

              As with most university education, you learn how to teach yourself as much as you need to know. For the great majority of electrical/electronic engineers, a "positron as a electron hole" analogy works well enough. But it isn't completely true, and it's not good enough if you're creating detectors for CERN for example.

    3. Grikath

      Re: "university education"

      You're confusing cognitive intelligence with intellect.

      There must be quite a few people in ISIS ( or whatever they're calling themselves now) that have perfectly functioning hardware in their noggin to be able to pull off what they're doing at the moment.

      The software and applications running on it? .... leaves a bit to be desired...

    4. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: "university education"

      University education no longer requires critical thinking, for many courses rote learning will do, or is indeed required

    5. Rick Giles
      Trollface

      Re: "university education"

      How can someone have such cognitive dissonance?

      A university education + radical beliefs.

      A: Religion

      Acceptable answers are also A Democrat/Liberal.

      1. Richard Jones 1
        FAIL

        Re: "university education"

        @Rick Giles

        Or a Tea Party Republican.

        1. Lord_Beavis
          Mushroom

          Re: "university education"

          @Richard Jones 1

          @Rick Giles

          Or a Tea Party Republican.

          Was that supposed to be an insult? Because I'm not one of those either.

      2. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: "university education"

        > "Acceptable answers are also A Democrat/Liberal."

        Points of view like this (and others) often make me think there are more 'radical beliefs' in the US, than anywhere else.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: "university education"

          @ Teiwaz

          "Points of view like this (and others) often make me think there are more 'radical beliefs' in the US, than anywhere else."

          The problem is Rick Giles and Richard Jones 1 are not wrong, they just aint totally right either. In the UK we have BNP/EDL to the right and various communist/socialist on the left. In the US they have republican or democrat but with the various shades of people at the extreme ends. The current problems in US politics seems to be due to extremists on the left and the right shutting down effective government and pointing at each other in blame. So both sides look more unreasonable and the supporters vote for the more extreme on their side to counter the nutter on the other.

          The important question is who is available near the centre who is willing to cooperate and negotiate with the other side? Regardless of which way you lean (dem/rep) you will surely struggle to identify who is reasonable in the runners.

          Over here we voted for a pathological lier (blair) and to get back power the tories made his clone the leader. Labour alienated people so badly that BNP gained popularity, shafted the economy, ruined our power generation capacity and managed to spend everything in a boom to run away before they had to deal with the fallout. Now we have a left extremist running labour (amazing after milliband was considered extreme left), tories taking the centre left position labour vacated and a vacuum on the right. All the while this country is torn almost evenly over the idea of staying tied to the sinking ship of the EU or being branded racist as we open our doors and trade to the world, religiously committed to a health system no other country would want to emulate and alternately marching jihad sympathisers, EDL and anti capitalist rioters.

          I seriously hope this isnt a competition for some award because there will be a few contestants in this world, the US just has a lot of people and 24hr sensationalist reporting.

          1. goodjudge

            Re: "university education"

            @ codejunky

            "tories taking the centre left position labour vacated"

            Really?! Presumably you think Genghis Khan was some kind of liberal do-gooder? Since when have huge cuts in government spending, selling off pretty much everything left that's state owned (deliberately at bargain prices for your mates in the City) and privatising the NHS been a "centre left position"?

            1. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: "university education"

              @ goodjudge

              "Really?! Presumably you think Genghis Khan was some kind of liberal do-gooder? Since when have huge cuts in government spending, selling off pretty much everything left that's state owned (deliberately at bargain prices for your mates in the City) and privatising the NHS been a "centre left position"?"

              In case you forgot over the last 6 years- "Cuts to make Thatchers eyes water". Who said that? Labour. The tories have so far protected NHS spending, protected pensions with a 'triple lock', expanded labours surveillance state, splashed the cash on public services and projects (HS2 I look at you) and increased tax's. I am not defending them but they have made move after move to take the labour voters, even in the middle of dealing with the recession. Actually it bothers me as no party should be unchallenged and the tories cannot be both left and right at the same time regardless of their internal split.

              As to your question of when all that was the centre left position- under the last labour gov. The exception being the cuts in spending because they were thrown out of office for economic mismanagement. As I recall Brown loved PFI contracts written tot he expense of the tax payer, sold the gold at rock bottom prices, and privatised more of the NHS than any other gov yet. Just because they did all that during a boom doesnt change the fact that they did it. How do you think they left such a deficit and had nothing left for the coming recession? Brown was convinced no more boom and bust.

              we do seem to be heading very off topic I notice. Oops

    6. Suricou Raven

      Re: "university education"

      I have my own hypothesis on this: Education and exposure to wider ideas makes it more difficult to reconcile the contradictions of moderate religion.

      Moderate religion is full of self-contradictory elements. You need to believe that all followers of other religions are going to burn in hell forever, but also respect their freedom of religion - even allow them to raise children doomed to burn, when the compassionate thing would be to kidnap them for their own good. You need to believe in a paradise afterlife, but still value self-preservation. You need to believe you have a book with the words of the all-powerful creator, but only bother to skim through it once or twice a year. You've got to believe that this verse forbidding murder is a divine moral mandate of unquestionable authority, but this verse a little later in the book requiring stoning the gays is safe to ignore. You've got to tolerate the preachers of other religions, even when you know that they are dragging people down to hell with them.

      There comes a point when it's too hard to reconcile what one believes they believe with how one acts - and at that point people are forced to either admit they were lying to themselves and abandon the religion altogether, or embrace it to the fullest possible extent become an extremist.

  4. Ru'

    Surely all they need to is pray to get any answer?...

    1. HildyJ

      Prayer is good for getting any answer. The right answer, not so much.

      Just listen to neurosurgeon/head case Carson.

  5. Nick Kew Silver badge
    Alien

    Smiley's People

    So, El Reg identifies exactly where to insert a spy and a trojan.

    Should we infer anything from the fact of the story going public? Candidate explanations such as:

    • They already report to MI5?
    • Someone in the "ban encryption" brigade believes the story will serve their cause?
    • It's a double-bluff to try and send out a misleading message about the spooks' capabilities?

    If it were any of my business, I expect I'd try harder to home in on it.

    1. DarkWalker

      Re: Smiley's People

      I actually believe this foils the arguments of the "ban encryption" brigade. If ISIS has a support structure dedicated to walking their agents through setting secure communications, then they would be able to set a safe encrypted layer above any government-mandated unencrypted network. They aren't just using default-settings off-the-shelf kit anymore.

    2. Nick Kew Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Smiley's People

      Well, reports elsewhere suggest a double bluff, and that the Paris folks were talking unencrypted.

  6. GitMeMyShootinIrons

    In other news....

    Isis released a press release announcing that they were outsourcing their help desk function to a call centre in Bangalore. Staff were notified this morning, with half of them detonating in protest, the rest beheaded as part of cut backs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In other news....

      Staff were told they had to reduce the headcount.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm sure they also have garages..

    .. which repair cars they drive around in, so let's just ban everyone with a beard from having a car.

    The answer to better intelligence is people, not technology. Offer a REAL reward for ratting out where the leaders are and make sure it's credibly paid out to encourage others. If you'd spend 1% of the money they throw away on security theatre buying real intel they would have caused some real pain already, but I suspect that would stop the sales of war material, the real goal of this all.

    However, I can see where they're coming from. Every time an atrocity happens, the media give these people free marketing. I can recall the IRA era where such stuff was never to be reported on the front page and the voices of guys that are now "respected" MPs were not even allowed live but had to be replayed by a voice actor. That did actually make sense, but such a strategy requires everyone to collaborate and if there is one thing we know of the media, profit always comes first (so, fat chance).

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: I'm sure they also have garages..

      I always felt sorry for the voice actor who played the part. They must have suffered terribly from the random acts of violence that inexplicably sprang up around him whenever he spoke because people thought he was the main man.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: I'm sure they also have garages..

        > I always felt sorry for the voice actor who played the part.

        To my ear, Gerry Adams' voice double sounded much nicer and more reasonable than GA himself. The certainly didn't hinder Sinn Fein and may even have helped them.

    2. Valerion

      Re: I'm sure they also have garages..

      .. which repair cars they drive around in, so let's just ban everyone with a beard from having a car.

      I'd just ban everyone with a beard* full stop. Then we'd get rid of hipsters, too.

      *Except Santa. My kids would never forgive me.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm sure they also have garages..

      So 50 Million from Putin is not a real reward? It may be tough to collect but if he can lay waste to the bastards who bombed the Russian plane from getting paid for intelligence, more power to him.

      Hollande and Putin are certainly ALOT more decisive than that simpering wimp Obama.

      Also, why was I down voted for suggesting that the media is giving terrorists a voice by giving them publicity? It's a FACT! They should not be allowed to name them except if it is a list of ISIS dead.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'm sure they also have garages..

        They should not be allowed to name them except if it is a list of ISIS dead

        Close, but no cigar. Rule number one of dealing with a hornet's nest. You take the biggest sprayer in hand, load it with the best poison on hand and you spray it once. And for all.

        You do not chase single hornets using high tech weaponry and you definitely do not announce the successful termination of a single hornet on the evening news. So no lists. Unless it is an announcement of the completion of the termination of the whole nest with extreme prejudice.

        1. Suricou Raven

          Re: I'm sure they also have garages..

          But these hornets have built their nest alongside lots of nice friendly pollinating bees. You could just kill them all, yes - but not without the sort of collateral damage that makes Hitler look like an ok guy.

        2. Lamont Cranston
          FAIL

          Re: Hornets

          There's so much wrong with that analogy, it hurts.

    4. Seajay#

      Re: Money for intel

      "The answer to better intelligence is people, not technology. Offer a REAL reward for ratting out where the leaders are and make sure it's credibly paid out to encourage others."

      We did loads of this in Afghanistan. What you get is a villager saying "That bloke is definitely Taliban and I claim my £5" when the reality is that he

      a) just wants the money

      b) wants revenge over that bloke borrrowing his lawnmower and not returning it (or local cultural equivalent).

      If it's a significant sum of money, it's well worth a local conspiracy on a scale you can't hope to unpick.

  8. eJ2095

    I am betting

    This is the same hell desk that rings me up at home and tells me i have a virus ;-0

    1. kmac499

      Re: I am betting

      Hell Desk Baiting questions;

      Which Computer

      Will this make my pirate copy legal

      I already have antibacterial software, it's for things bigger than viruses

      I don't have Spam, I'm vegetarian

      Can you wiggle your webcam a bit, I can't see you clearly.

  9. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

    Encryption is once again coming under mis-directed fire in the wake of the Paris attacks as news emerges that intelligence services had wind of possible attacks in the French capital but were foiled as jihadis moved to crypto communications platforms.

    Intelligence services are once again coming under correctly-directed fire in the wake of the Paris attacks as news emerges that their blanket surveillance methods have highlighted the need for crypto communications for anyone who wants a modicum of privacy, including terrorists and criminals.

    FTFY

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Intelligence services are once again coming under correctly-directed fire

      Not quite. They should come under fire that they had all the data needed and failed to connect the dots.

      The biggest problem of intelligence today is not the lack of information, it is the information flood. The final links in the chain - the humans that are supposed to evaluate the processed information and make decisions are overwhelmed.

      Banning or backdooring encryption will not help this one in the slightest. In fact, just the opposite. If they cannot handle the flood today, how the f*** are they going to handle the deluge in that case?

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      " were foiled as jihadis moved to crypto communications platforms."

      the jihadis moved to encrypted platforms years ago, we were told this after Charlie Hebdo, we were told the same after London, same after Madrid, same after 9/11, same even after much earlier attacks eg Oklahoma City. Snowden's leaks showed that NSA were already in possession of jihadi anti-surveillance manuals, which had exactly the same tips and tricks as the NSA/GCHQ gave to their own agents.

      Truth is that unscrupulous people with their own power-grabbing agenda will use any opportunity including (or even especially) tragedies with large loss of life to further their agenda and grab more power. Nothing has changed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Nothing surprising

        which had exactly the same tips and tricks as the NSA/GCHQ gave to their own agents

        Why does that surprise you? At least some of the jihadis were trained originally as part of our benevolent assistance to the "freedom fighters" (quotes intended) in ex-USSR border conflicts by the same people and using the same manual. That sounded as a jolly good idea in the days when they need this to avoid the FSB so they can bomb the Moscow subway, hijack 1000+ hostages in a Moscow theater, hijack a bus a week 40 more in Rostov-na-Don or use pregnant women as human shields. Because, according to some warped minds in 3 letter/number agencies, that was somehow advancing our interests.

        Well, today they are using the same training and the same manuals on us. Nothing surprising really - you do not train or feed a rabid dog. It is rabid. It will bite you regardless of how much you have fed or trained it.

  10. alain williams Silver badge

    ''deranged sys admins''

    Derogatory & belittling attacks on your enemy is silly, the result is that you tend to dismiss them as fools and so not take them seriously. You may not agree with what they are doing (as I do not) but we must understand that they have intelligent people and are thus able confound the best that we can use against them. To assume any less is to leave us wide open.

    We must also assume that their top commanders get better advice on secret communications than those lower down.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ''deranged sys admins''

      Derogatory & belittling attacks on your enemy is silly, the result is that you tend to dismiss them as fools and so not take them seriously.

      What is said in public differs from is said behind the scenes...

      1. MrTuK

        Re: ''deranged sys admins''

        What is said in public is for the public consumption of the day, what is said behind the scenes will only be revealed by the Snowden types if we are lucky or not at all !

        Until we have all communications monitored and made available for all the public to peruse so no secrets for anybody as no one has anything to hide do they !

        Now that would be the day !

    2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: ''deranged sys admins''

      Just to pick a big nit.

      There's no reason you can't be the most intelligent person on the planet AND deranged -they're not mutually exclusive

      The word deranged simply implies mad/insane - there's no implication of stupidity or foolishness, just of less than sane beliefs/thought structures.

      Personally, I think deranged is a fair word for those that follow ISIS

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: ''deranged sys admins''

        Insane / crazy / deranged / mad etc are literally a connotation of mental illness. ie something is wrong in the brain hardware, this is stuff that cannot be fixed or needs heavy medication to control. These terms are also very often used to describe people where something is wrong with their belief systems ie their internal mental map of the universe is screwed up.

        I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with the jihadis' brain hardware and thought processes. If someone's truly and deeply held beliefs are (there's an all powerful god who hates those who don't obey and wants them killed, and those who kill the infidels will be highly rewarded for eternity in heaven, which definitely exists) then it is indeed a logical and perfectly sane thought structure that will lead them to go blow themselves up in a crowd.

        Of course it also requires huge levels of cognitive dissonance to be able to hold those beliefs while living in the real world, but hey, humans are ace at cognitive dissonance. The good news is that these people are fuelled by bad ideas, which are possible to fight back against using good ideas, not more bombs.

        1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

          Re: ''deranged sys admins''

          Insane / crazy / deranged / mad etc are literally a connotation of mental illness. ie something is wrong in the brain hardware, this is stuff that cannot be fixed or needs heavy medication to control.

          Which is not the same as being unintelligent or stupid - so there should be no underestimation of a persons potential capability

          If someone's truly and deeply held beliefs are... snip...then it is indeed a logical and perfectly sane thought structure that will lead them to go blow themselves up in a crowd.

          I have a very hard time calling it sane. Logical, yes, in that the logic follows even if it's morally reprehensible. Murdering civilians for their (lack of) religious beliefs is not a sane thing to do - I'm using sane: reasonable or sensible.

          Equally importantly, using ISIS' indiscriminate tactics, which even Al-Qaeda were against, there's a risk that innocent believers of Islam might also be harmed/killed. Some of those might even be Wahhabi (i.e. "good" muslims in the terrorist's slightly stunted world view). To risk killing those who support you, when the rest of the world is against, is not a reasonable or sensible move.

          I completely agree that we shouldn't underestimate them, but I don't think deranged is an inappropriate description for their acts (though whether or not it truly applies to their sysadmins is something else)

          The good news is that these people are fuelled by bad ideas, which are possible to fight back against using good ideas, not more bombs.

          100% agreed - all the bombs really do is to provide another "example" of the west's evil that can be used when trying to radicalise the vulnerable

        2. HildyJ

          Re: ''deranged sys admins''

          I agree wholeheartedly that what are needed are good ideas (and good deeds). Unfortunately what we too often get are Judeo-Christian ideas that feel the only flaw in the Islamic terrorists' argument is that they are killing the wrong people in defense of the wrong god. .

  11. Simon Harris Silver badge

    ISIS helpdesk...

    presumably they manage Blue Screams Of Death.

  12. Downside

    OpSec fail

    Handy having a help desk that's only contacted by your operational units. Makes that quite the honey pot to keep an eye on.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ISIS reporting Anonymous to Twitter

    wait till start issueing DMCA Notices to NSA...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    life imitating...

    What next, hidden bank accounts? Outsourcing help desk to 3rd world economies? Money laundering? Oh, wait...

  15. Pseudonymous Diehard

    See?

    Everyone needs tech support. Run a story on that so I can go to my clients and put my prices up.

    Im determined for the myth "theres lots of money in IT" to become true one day.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hello, IS help desk

    ...have you tried chopping it off again?

  17. mark 120

    Can it be hacked?

    Update the FAQs and the help database, to give useless answers?

    "If you're having trouble communicating, immediately disable ToR and try again. If that fails, send an email containing your name and address to help@GCHQ.com

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: Can it be hacked?

      The number for our emergency support line has been changed to "0118 999 881 99 9119 7253"

    2. billse10

      Re: Can it be hacked?

      Good news, TalkTalk's security team are advising them ......

  18. Rick Giles
    Trollface

    Now, just imagine...

    It being off shored to India...

  19. Blinkered

    Now, just imagine...

    Ello Mr Jeehadee - aaa amm calling from Microsoft technical support... we have detected a problem with your computa...

  20. Proffesor Madhead

    Please send them a BOFH mug.

    made of something that explodes when mixed with boiling water.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Religion

    Man-kinds most dangerous idea.

  22. FlamingDeath Bronze badge
    Big Brother

    PSYOPS

    This story smacks of it, the insecurity services are getting desperate with their newsplants

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