Evidence has been found that Islamic State terrorists have been using encrypted communications to coordinate and plan their attacks. A European counterterrorism official was quoted as saying that the terrorists knew they would be under surveillance, and acted accordingly.
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell believes that these terrorists have been using encrypted apps that are commercially available. This level of encryption is intended to maintain the privacy of the users of the services, and proves very difficult for law enforcement to read the messages.
The Islamic State has been known to use Telegram to communicate with operatives; using the self destructing nature of the messages to prevent counterterrorism organisations from reading them. It is also suspected that the group uses other instant messaging services – such as WhatsApp – which has been moving to implement better encryption systems following revelations about government surveillance on individual citizens. There has also been suspicion that the Islamic State has been using voice chat on the PlayStation 4 to communicate.
It is likely that this latest round of terror attacks will only spur governments to increase surveillance and spying. More importantly, it may be used to force technology companies to agree to install backdoors into their services to allow government actors to access encrypted data. The US has been pushing for legislation that would force companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook to provide access to law enforcement agencies to their user data.
However, considering that the world is now dealing with an incredibly tech savvy terrorist group, it is difficult to say if providing encryption keys and backdoors to governments will have any impact on their activities. It is more likely that the Islamic State will simply switch to a more secure form of communication once their instant messaging apps become compromised.