Report Explores Terrorist Use of Web-to-Mobile Phone Technologies

By Matthew Harwood

U.S. Army intelligence fears terrorists will use emerging Web-to-mobile phone technologies and vice versa to help them plan and coordinate a terrorist strike, according to a draft paper circulating throughout the American spy community.

"Terrorists and persons sympathetic to terrorism recommend a variety of different mobile to web technologies software and Voice over Internet Protocol (VolP) for their mobile phone use," says the report. "Some of the tactics are old, some of the tactics are still emerging and some tactics may emerge from hacker, activist, and criminal non-terrorist use."

The paper, which appears on the Federation of American Scientists' Web site, explores five topics: the popularity of cell phone interfaces for disseminating propaganda, use of mobile global positioning systems for terrorist targeting, use of mobile phones as surveillance tools, the use of voice changers for terrorist phone calls, and the potential for terrorists to use Twitter—a popular social networking and microblogging service.

A host of propaganda in a wide variety of formats can be uploaded to mobile phones, while text messaging grows in popularity in jihadist circles, according to the paper.

The report states that GPS-enabled cellphones, specifically the Nokia 6210 Navigator, could be used by terrorists for travel plans, surveillance, and targeting. In May, a discussion thread on a pro-terrorist Web site, discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using Nokia GPS for terrorist purposes. One post noted that GPS could be used to find water as well as enemy locations.

Jihadist writing on the Web also discusses use of  mobile phones' camera and video recording capabilities. One contributor to the online forum "Mujahedeen Army of Iraq Enabling Islamic Mobiles," writing under the screen name "Volcano," recommended using the camera/video options to surveil targets and document attacks. "Volcano" even suggested that a mobile phone camera could be integrated with missiles to film attacks, although the Army report says the idea is flawed.

Other terrorist discussion threads discovered by Army intelligence suggest that terrorists will use voice changing software to disguise their identities when making VoIP telephone calls.  The report notes that this suggestion was made after media outlets reported the Taliban used the VoIP service Skype. According to the report:

The Taliban and other like groups suspecting their VoIP communications are being monitored could theoretically combine voice changing software with (or without) encryption and caller I.D. spoofing in order to make basic detection more difficult.

Finally, the report addresses potential terrorist use the social networking and microblogging service Twitter to communicate in near-real time using Web-enabled mobile phones. Twitter's so-called "mash-ups" allow users to integrate other tools, such as Google maps, into messages. The report notes protest groups during the Republican National Convention used Twitter to communicate the positions of law enforcement near instantaneously.

The report does come with caveats, however. None of the scenarios was tested for real-world feasibility and the entire report relied on open source data that was not cross-checked with classified information. Finally, the authors say each topic discussed is merely an introduction and each subject deserves papers, if not books, devoted to them.


View Recent News (by day)


Beyond Print

SM Online

See all the latest links and resources that supplement the current issue of Security Management magazine.