Believe it or not – Daesh’s Alrawi App is a game changer.

There is some contention on the interwebs about whether or not Daesh have in fact developed an Android app called Alrawi that provides them with, among other things, an encrypted chat service.

I don’t know why anyone is surprised by this.

Adaptability is after all, one of Daesh’s strengths as David Kilcullen wrote in 2015:

… the fall of Ramadi shows Islamic State has adapted successfully to the coalition air campaign, which began last August. Before then, it’s commanders ran a conventional war of manoeuvre, operating openly, moving by day in columns of several hundred troops, flanked by technicals (pick-up tucks carrying heavy weapons and infantry) and supported by artillery, tanks and rockets. Once the air campaign began, they dropped back into guerrilla mode – small teams, civilian clothes, light weapons, moving by night, blending with the population to avoid being targeted from the air. They decentralized command and control, delegating significant autonomy to junior commanders and dispersing headquarters and installations…

Daesh’s ability to evolve their C2 capability is proven: it would therefore seem a logical extension to apply that strategy to C4i.

Regardless, if you’re still stuck on the “Is it real? or is it a hoax?” bandwagon,  you’re missing the point.

The reality is, it doesn’t matter if it exists; if it’s wishful thinking, a misinformation or PSYOP campaign – what matters is the quantum leap in data science it represents and what effect that will have on military, law enforcement and intelligence cyber tango hunters.

It is clear that Daesh have both the capability and the intent to mastermind such a capability.

If researchers haven’t yet found such an app perhaps it’s because their forays into the dark web haven’t successfully penetrated Daesh’s increasingly sophisticated and secure digital eco-system?

Or perhaps it really doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t – ladies and gentleman place your bets. The encrypted arms race is on.

In the interim, instead of rampaging around the dark web on a guerrilla style goose chase what the West needs to focus on is staying at the very least in lock-step, if not ahead of Daesh’s commitment to exploiting existing and emergent digital technology.

It’s been over 3 years since Daesh launched their first social media offensive and we’re still not fighting effectively on the that battlefield. With Daesh adding an encrypted App to their already capable arsenal … is not going to end well for us.

Why an App?

You only have to look around the civilian marketplace and the success of encrypted Apps such as Wickr, Telegram and What’s App – to recognize that people have an appetite for encrypted communications. For reasons of privacy or nefarious intent, these Apps have been downloaded by over a billion users around the world.

Of course it stands to reason that Daesh wouldn’t offer their users the end-to-end encrypted privacy of their data that commercial off the shelf Apps do. And why would they?

Being able to push AND pull data is akin to a digital terrorists holy grail.

Having at their disposal the ability to pull data presents them with a treasure trove of user information such as:

  • Demographical profile (including that of their contacts)
  • Psychographical profile
  • Languages spoken, written, read
  • Financial habits
  • Geographical data
  • A user-generated prospect theory map
  • Phone brand, model, operating system; and
  • Social media usage, trends, audience size … and more.

Having this information readily accessible takes their ability to craft and target precise messaging across the information and psychological domains from proficient to potent. Add being able to push that content to a primed pre-qualified audience in a timely manner loaded with on target messaging … disastrously effective.

From online radicalization to operational digital asset distribution, human capital resourcing and commodity logistics – their ability to operate in a self-secure digital ecosystem represents a far broader spectrum threat than we currently face via the public interwebs.

If we are serious about degrading and defeating Daesh it’s time Government’s got seriously digital – to help them down the path of self-destruction.

Fighting Daesh isn’t a popularity contest: all the Facebook Likes in the world aren’t going to win this war. We need to stop looking at the false economy of superficial social metrics for answers and arm up for the fight on the big data battlefield.