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Welcome to the Future of War: ISIS Has a Smartphone App

The app distributes news from an ISIS-affiliated media outlet.

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In YouTube videos depicting its rule, in Twitter messages spreading its ideology, and in chat rooms winning new recruits, the Islamic State has demonstrated just how powerful modern communications technology can be for a multinational terrorist group. Now, the Islamic State has taken what seems like the natural next step in its evolution as a modern media conglomerate: It has created a smartphone app.

Capable of running on Android devices, the app functions as a basic news reader and a portal for Amaq News Agency, which is linked to the Islamic State’s propaganda operations. The exact relationship between Amaq and the terrorist group is unclear, but the news agency was the first to carry the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the shooting attack in California last week that killed 14.

The app includes video and text reports about life under the Islamic State, announcing battlefield victories and executions of the extremist group’s enemies. Amaq will sometimes repackage propaganda reports from official Islamic State outlets and run them as its own.

On its face, the app is basically indistinguishable from a typical news service:

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The app represents the Islamic State’s latest foray into advanced information operations. Even as Western countries have expanded their campaign of airstrikes against the group, and backed local forces in operations against it, the Islamic State has maintained a formidable online presence.

With Western intelligence agencies mostly unable to counteract the militant group’s presence on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, online vigilantes have begun attacking Islamic State-affiliated social media accounts. These attacks have included coordinated efforts to report such accounts to companies like Twitter and Facebook.

Indeed, the Amaq app was discovered by one such group, CtrlSec, which is affiliated with Ghost Security Group, arguably the most prominent hacker collective besides Anonymous to take on the Islamic State online. Researchers with CtrlSec found the app by infiltrating a closed channel on Telegram, a Russian app the Islamic State has increasingly embraced to spread its propaganda. A link to download the Islamic State app was distributed via Telegram.

“Through the Internet, the Islamic State is managing the most aggressive and terrifying global influence operation in history,” said Michael Smith, a principal and COO at Kronos Advisory, a defense contracting firm that serves as an intermediary between Ghost Security Group and the U.S. government. “The Islamic State wants to not only streamline its efforts but to also do it in a way that is more controlled.”

Photo credits: CtrlSec via Michael Smith

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll

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