Whether the intelligence document leaked last weak is indeed true or not, one of the aspects of it seems to have been confirmed by cyber security experts around the world. This would be the news that the Russian Government has successfully developed a means to crack through the encryption offered by the Telegram messaging App.
For the purposes of this article, if you do not understand why this is such monumental news, it is because Telegram has served as the primary communication tool of the Islamic State for many years now. For this very reason, the hacking of Telegram could have major implications on several active ground Wars in and around the Middle East.
If you have never heard of Telegram before, it is a superior version of WhatsApp, in that it offers true “end to end encryption” for all its users. The service is also different in that it allows its used to transfer funds or make payments to other Telegram users.
While services like Telegram “may” be offered with honorable intentions, simply to keep peoples personal data and conversations safe from prying eyes, not every person which uses these types of services has honorable intentions. Spoiler alert, turns out criminals and terrorists like to keep their communications pretty secretive just as well.
Telegram just so happens to be one of the only companies left in the world in 2017 which still offers full end-to-end encryption on all its data. Apparently though, as reported by Security Affairs today, in response to the news of a leak from former British Intelligence, the understanding is that “the FSB now successfully had cracked this communication software and therefore it was no longer secure to use.”
Why did Russia want to hack Telegram so badly?
By the fall of 2015, members of the Islamic State had began to transfer all of their communications away from popular social media venues, such as Twitter, in favor of more secure services, such as Telegram. The main bulk of this movement also coincided with Operation_ISIS (#OpISIS), carried out by the Anonymous hacker collective.
While the hacking campaign was very successful, as intelligence analysts pointed out at the time, the operation was also extremely harmful to US counter intelligence, whom had been “monitoring” several of the websites/accounts for weeks, months and years before Anonymous suddenly “erased” all of them from the internet.
While some of the core members of ISIS had already been using Telegram to pay transporters of oil for quite some time, especially oil shipments into and out of regions like Turkey, after the Anonymous cyber attacks ,many of the small time or lesser members of ISIS began to switch over to Telegram in record numbers.
Tying this information with the news today, in December 2015, after calling out ISIS in an “International Troll ISIS Day,” members of Anonymous secretly used the event to serve as a honeypot to attract IS members to react – which also succeeded. Over the course of the next several days, Anonymous proceeded to gain access to over half a dozen channels that members of the Islamic State had begun using and were advertising other members to switch over to.
Though the information was leaked only intended for the eyes of the Federal Secret Service in Russia, the information was secretly intercepted and leaked to the US Central Intelligence Agency as well.
Why am I bringing any of this up?
I am bringing this up to help you understand why many Government agencies, particularly those in Russia, have been so eager to hack Telegram‘s encryption. Just think about it, gaining access to half a dozen channels was once considered a remarkable breakthrough in the online cyber-War against ISIS, could you imagine the intelligence explosion that would result from the whole service becoming corrupted?
Despite the current US led battle for Mosul, it has been Russia whom has taken the lead in the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East over the course of the last several years. If the reports coming out this week are indeed true, then perhaps it is no wonder why Russia has become so successful in their on the ground assault against the Islamic State recently.
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