The mainstream media has been hard at work trying to make extremely mundane things appear terrifying by pointing out Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) uses them. Take phone-based technical support. It’s something most of us have used at some point in our lives. The only things frightening about it are wait times, trying to explain to the poor sap reading from their script that you’ve already performed the basic trouble shooting steps, and having your call dropped when you miraculously get connected to the one competent support specialist in the entire company. But NBC News decided mundane technical support is something that could be made absolutely terrifying by combining it with ISIS:
NBC News has learned that ISIS is using a web-savvy new tactic to expand its global operational footprint — a 24-hour Jihadi Help Desk to help its foot soldiers spread its message worldwide, recruit followers and launch more attacks on foreign soil.
Counterterrorism analysts affiliated with the U.S. Army tell NBC News that the ISIS help desk, manned by a half-dozen senior operatives around the clock, was established with the express purpose of helping would-be jihadists use encryption and other secure communications in order to evade detection by law enforcement and intelligence authorities.
The relatively new development — which law enforcement and intel officials say has ramped up over the past year — is alarming because it allows potentially thousands of ISIS followers to move about and plan operations without any hint of activity showing up in their massive collection of signals intelligence.
Although I highly doubt the claim that this help desk system is a new development its existence doesn’t change anything. Information on using secure communications technology has been publicly available on the Internet for years. There are numerous well-written step-by-step guides that walk users through setting up and using tools for communicating securely. They’re used by victims of domestic abuse who need to contact help without their abuser knowing, political dissidents in countries ruled by ruthless regimes, buyers and sellers of prohibited goods in countries ruled by regimes willing to storm homes at oh dark thirty and shoot family pets over some plants, and many other at risk individuals.
But technology is amoral and serves both the good and the bad alike. A car can whisk you from home to work but it can also help a bank robber escape after a heist. A gun can allow a frail 80 year-old woman to defend herself against a physically fit 20 year-old rapist but it can also be used by a police officer to murder a cannabis user. Encryption is no different.
Fearing something mundane because an evil person or organization is using it is idiotic. Every technology we have developed has been used by both good and evil people. That will never change.