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The UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Revisits Terrorism in Cyberspace

by David Fidler
Twitter hashtag for UN Counter-Terrorism Committee meetings on ICT terrorism, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2016 (D Fidler)

Last week, the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee held meetings on preventing the exploitation of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for terrorist purposes. These meetings, like similar ones in December 2015, focused on the self-declared Islamic State’s use of the internet and social media and highlighted increased activities during 2016 against ICT terrorism by international organizations, governments, civil society, and tech companies. However, problems exposed in 2015 appeared again in these meetings, raising questions about what impact the increased actions have had.

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Israel’s New Counter-Terrorism Law and Terrorism in Cyberspace

by David Fidler
The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, meets on July 11, 2016. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters) The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, meets on July 11, 2016. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

The Israeli parliament adopted a new counter-terrorism law on June 15, 2016. According to the Ministry of Justice’s summary, the legislation will provide “law enforcement authorities with more effective tools to combat modern terrorist threats while incorporating additional checks and balances necessary to safeguard against unreasonable violations of individual human rights.” The legislation revises and expands Israeli law in many areas, as Elena Chacko discusses at Lawfare. The changes include provisions addressing use of the internet and social media for terrorist purposes. With terrorist activities online under scrutiny, the new Israeli law is important to efforts underway to reduce the threat of terrorism in cyberspace.

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The Orlando Massacre and the Conundrum of Online Radicalization

by David Fidler
Imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce offers a prayer for victims of the Orlando shooting, in Fort Pierce, Florida on June 12, 2016. (Joe Skipper/Reuters) Imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce offers a prayer for victims of the Orlando shooting, in Fort Pierce, Florida on June 12, 2016. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

After the terrorist attack in Orlando, President Obama stated “the killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet.” FBI Director James Comey said Omar Mateen’s radicalization occurred in part through online activities. These statements reinforce what we already knew—online activities feature in extremist radicalization. We have a weaker grasp on what role extremist information on the internet plays in any given individual’s radicalization and whether strategies to address online aspects of radicalization are working. What we presently know about Mateen’s journey to committing the worst mass shooting in U.S. history provides little guidance on these questions. Nor is it clear additional information will change this reality.

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Dropping the Cyber Bomb? Spectacular Claims and Unremarkable Effects

by Guest Blogger
Cyber CFR Net Politics A B52 dropping bombs over Vietnam. Cyber bombs and actual bombs are not the same thing. (U.S. Air Force).

Brandon Valeriano is a reader at Cardiff University and a fellow at the Niskanen Center, Heather Roff is a research scientist at the Global Security Initiative at Arizona State University, and Sean Lawson is an associate professor at the University of Utah.

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Into Africa: The Islamic State’s Online Strategy and Violent Extremism in Africa

by David Fidler
Twitter has shut down more than 125,000 terrorism-related accounts since the middle of 2015, most of them linked to the Islamic State group. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters).

Military campaigns in Iraq and Syria have re-taken territory from the Islamic State and damaged it in other ways, including its ability to finance military operations. As counter-attacks continue in the Middle East, the Islamic State’s activities in Africa, especially North Africa, are increasing. These activities include a defining characteristic of the Islamic State—its use of the Internet and social media to strengthen its control of territory and advance its extremist agenda. This aspect of the group’s efforts in Africa has garnered less interest than the number of its fighters in North Africa or its territorial foothold in Libya. However, the Islamic State is applying its online strategy in Africa, which raises questions about how to respond to this development.

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Crisis Averted, Postponed, or Exacerbated? The Department of Justice Delays the Apple iPhone Case

by David Fidler
Apple FBI Cyber Net Politics A New York City Police officer stands across the street from Apple Store on 5th Ave. in New York March 11, 2016. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters).

On the eve of oral arguments concerning a court order directing Apple to assist the Department of Justice (DOJ) in accessing an iPhone as part of the investigation into the San Bernardino terrorist attack, the DOJ asked federal court to postpone the hearing. The court granted the request. The DOJ told the court that, on March 20, “an outside party” demonstrated a possible way to unlock the iPhone without Apple’s help. The DOJ informed the court it needed time to test the proposed method, but that, if viable, the method “should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple.”

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The Chinese Government Has its Eye on the FBI-Apple Battle

by Adam Segal
A military delegate takes pictures with her iPhone ahead of the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 3, 2016. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Reuters) A military delegate takes pictures with her iPhone ahead of the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 3, 2016. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Reuters)

Shadowing the standoff between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Apple over access to an encrypted iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino attackers is the question: What will China do? If Apple creates unique software that allows Washington access to the phone, does that open the door for Beijing to make similar demands on the company and all other foreign technology firms operating in China? As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) argued, “This move by the FBI could snowball around the world. Why in the world would our government want to give repressive regimes in Russia and China a blueprint for forcing American companies to create a backdoor?”

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Send in the Malware: U.S. Cyber Command Attacks the Islamic State

by David Fidler
social media islamic state cyber net politics cfr A 3D printed logo of Twitter and an Islamic State flag are seen in this picture illustration taken February 18, 2016. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters).

At the end of February, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told a House subcommittee that U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) is conducting offensive operations against the Islamic State. This statement went viral. “Make no mistake,” Peter Singer of New America said, “this is a very big deal.” It signals a shift in the fight against the Islamic State and marks the first time the United States has acknowledged undertaking cyberattacks during armed conflict. CYBERCOM’s campaign makes real what was anticipated—the integration of offensive cyber capabilities in strategies and tactics for waging war.

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Reactions to the Apple-FBI Clash in the San Bernardino Case

by Adam Segal
Apple CFR Cyber Net Politics Back Doors Encryption An Apple logo is seen at the Apple store in Munich, Germany, January 27, 2016. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters).

Much has been written in the past forty-eight hours on Apple’s refusal to comply with a federal order to assist the FBI access the encrypted contents on a iPhone 5C owned by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the deceased perpetrators of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

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UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Tackles Terrorist Use of the Internet and Social Media

by David Fidler
Net Politics Cyber CFR The UN Security Council chamber. (UN Photo/Creative Commons).

The Islamic State’s exploitation of the Internet and social media continues to bedevil U.S. policymakers, legislators, and tech companies. Problems with State Department efforts to counter Islamic State online propaganda have produced another overhaul of U.S. counter-messaging efforts. A legislative proposal in June 2015 to increase company reporting of online terrorist activity was dropped, but it reappeared after the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. Executive branch pressure on companies to do more against terrorist use of social media has increased, most recently in a meeting last month between federal officials and tech company leaders.

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