Our overlords are still trying to make us believe the the reason the Paris attackers weren’t discovered before the attack is because they used effective cryptography. That is a blatant lie though. So what did the attackers use to avoid detection? A lot of cell phones:
New details of the Paris attacks carried out last November reveal that it was the consistent use of prepaid burner phones, not encryption, that helped keep the terrorists off the radar of the intelligence services.
As an article in The New York Times reports: “the three teams in Paris were comparatively disciplined. They used only new phones that they would then discard, including several activated minutes before the attacks, or phones seized from their victims.”
The article goes on to give more details of how some phones were used only very briefly in the hours leading up to the attacks. For example: “Security camera footage showed Bilal Hadfi, the youngest of the assailants, as he paced outside the stadium, talking on a cellphone. The phone was activated less than an hour before he detonated his vest.” The information come from a 55-page report compiled by the French antiterrorism police for France’s Interior Ministry.
I hesitate to say the attackers used burner phones because the term usually implies phones that were purchased in convenience stores with cash. In reality this type of evasion is possible with any type of cell phone so long as a group has enough of them. The trick is to only use a particular cell phone for one or two messages before disposing of it. With numbers changing constantly it’s difficult for the spooks to create a reliable social graph and therefore a plot.
This news will likely have the undesired effect of inspiring legislators to write bills prohibiting the purchase of cell phones for cash but such legislation won’t hinder this kind of strategy.