There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that the ISIS attacks on Paris were carefully planned and executed, with some degree of sophistication involved, at least when it comes to avoiding intelligence agencies. Immediately after the tragedy that hit France in mid-November, many speculated that terrorists relied on encrypted devices and apps to thwart detection, although that hasn’t been proved so far. Moreover, reports picked up by the media revealed that ISIS might have an advanced support team in place, that would offer its members round-the-clock guidance when it comes to the digital aspect of their operations.
The same report said that ISIS created its own training manuals detailing best practices for safeguarding one’s privacy, but it turns out that’s not the case.
Apparently, the ISIS manual that has been seen by various news sites is something entirely different. It looks like ISIS members may have been passing it along, as it contains information that explains to any user best practices about protecting data online. But BuzzFeed has discovered that the secret ISIS cyber manual is an Arabic guide for activists.
Created by Cybercov, a private security firm in Kuwait, the manual isn’t made for ISIS. Instead, it was published in July 2014, being still available on the company’s site under the headline: Operational security for Journalists, Activists, and Human Rights Workers in the Gaza Strip.
“Our guide is based on publicly available tools, instructions, and best practices,” Cyberkov CEO Abdullah AlAli told BuzzFeed News. “The guidelines in our manual are sourced from the EFF [Electronic Frontier Foundation] and other sources of privacy organizations,” He said his organization had no idea its guide had been repurposed by ISIS. He added that he was surprised to see it mentioned in news following the Paris attacks and “even more shocked to see the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point simply Google-Translated it and claimed it as ISIS’s.”
That doesn’t mean that ISIS doesn’t have structures in place that help out with the digital side of business, just that it hasn’t created a digital manual to assist with operations. And if it has, the one leaked to the media isn’t it.