Read, Debate: Engage.
Read, Debate: Engage.
map tooltip
Technology

From hashes to the darknet: battling online terrorism isn’t that straightforward

July 10th, 2018
in:Technology
by:Yair Oded
tags:darknet, Facebook, Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), Google, Microsoft, terrorism, Twitter

June 2017 saw the birth of a new anti-terrorism force: a union between some of the world’s largest tech companies. Facing pressure by European leaders following a series of deadly terror attacks.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft combined forces and formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT). Since its establishment, GIFCT, whose aim is to identify and disrupt utilisation of online services by terrorist groups, has been joined by nine other major tech companies, including Instagram and LinkedIn.

Although GIFCT has registered some impressive achievements in the past year, and has severed communication between thousands of terrorist entities, its model still contains several flaws, and serious concerns arise regarding the group’s growing technological might.

Prior to the formation of the GIFCT partnership, tech companies engaged in separate efforts to disrupt terrorist groups seeking to exploit their networks by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) learning algorithms that flagged suspicious content. Alas, once blocked from one network, terrorist groups quickly turned to another platform in order to plan attacks and disseminate information. To solve that, the GIFCT partners established a shared database of ‘hashes’—a digital fingerprint which tracks online activity. Once a terrorist group is banned from one network, the ‘hash’ alerts other companies to remove the user’s content from their own platforms.

So far, nearly 90,000 hashes have been created in the database, and the group seems confident it will reach its goal of 100k by the end of 2018. Furthermore, GIFCT members have been collaborating closely with both government and non-governmental organisations to increase their efficiency in knowledge sharing and research as well as further develop their technological approach and capabilities. The group also funds private initiatives, such as Tech Against Terrorism, that aid smaller tech companies to secure their networks from terrorist activity.

Though successful, GIFCT have still quite a way to go before their mission of cleansing the cyber space from terrorist activity is accomplished. As a growing number of online platforms are unavailable to them, many terrorist groups, such as supporters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, have turned to cloud-based and encrypted instant messaging services, such as WhatsApp and Telegram, to resume communication. The Darknet (an incognito dimension of the web) has also morphed into a popular terrorist hub, as many such groups manage to relocate their websites there and operate uninterrupted.

Such technical hindrances will, most likely, be tackled eventually by the GIFCT giants. Yet, as the anti-terrorism campaign gains traction among tech companies, one cannot help but wonder who, in the current climate, assumes the authority to determine what ‘terrorist activity’ is? What does the definition of terrorism encompass precisely? Could efforts to curb ruthless violence result in either targeted or arbitrary suppression of freedom of expression? Could those ‘hashes’ be utilised to more easily spy on individuals and groups viewed as political dissidents or who, by virtue of their beliefs or socio-political affiliation, are deemed a threat to public safety? Such questions should be seriously contemplated while we put our trust in the hands of GIFCT to protect us from violent extremism.

This story was first published on 

Article written by:
Yair Oded
Author, Project Editor, Contributing Editor
Since its establishment, GIFCT, whose aim is to identify and disrupt utilisation of online services by terrorist groups, has been joined by nine other major tech companies, including Instagram and LinkedIn.
Embed from Getty Images
GIFCTs model still contains several flaws, and serious concerns arise regarding the group’s growing technological might.
Embed from Getty Images
So far, nearly 90,000 hashes have been created in the database, and the group seems confident it will reach its goal of 100k by the end of 2018.

Related & recommended articles