‘Policing the Clouds’ saw Shai Shiller, acknowledged as one of the most respected names in Israeli security, take the stage to discuss how to track terrorists online. He described the Internet as a huge, endless and cumbersome space; and said that password-protected social media sites are the ‘grey areas of the Internet’ while more protection-conscious websites, that are even harder to access, are the ‘black areas’.
He emphasised that due to its nature, the Internet is a natural breeding ground for terrorism, providing terrorist elements instant access to information, a sense of community and at the same time, comfortable anonymity. For this reason, Shiller founded a company, WebintPro, which specialises in monitoring social media platforms and accessing the ‘deep web’ for information from terrorist sympathisers.
Shiller emphasised a unique problem in counterterrorism â the problem of the lone wolf, who only trains and establishes links with terrorist groups on the Internet, often never physically meeting any other member of a terrorist group. He gave the example of Badr Mashal, a rich car driver from Kuwait who had a ‘double identity at night’, which prompted him to join the Al-Qaeda network in Iraq, as a jihadi. In an interview with his family and community just days after his deadly suicide bombing, they claimed to have had no idea that Badr was becoming an extremist. According to Shiller, “the only way to track lone wolves is by becoming a part of the sites where these discussions are taking place”, through the use of avatars, a number of fake internet profiles of people who participate in becoming respectable members of the online extremist community. For counterterrorism operations, avatars are âa way of doing undercover operations without risking real lives, the same as you would do if you go on a dating site and put in a fake name and photoâ.
Shiller explained the key to tracking terrorists online – âIf we’re looking for someone with bad intentions, we need a smoking gunâ. In a riveting presentation, he flagged a single contentious post by an alias on an extremist forum that encouraged the bombing of pipelines in Iraq. In just a couple of clicks, Shiller demonstrated his methodology of backtracking information, discovering the suspect’s real name, profession, age and location, and even his romantic interests – a Romanian girl he had met on the internet.
Shiller emphatically concluded by saying, âThe current battlefield is the Internet. 80 to 90% of prospective terrorist activity occurs there. It’s the best way of searching without tapping, of finding information without recording everything that we do.â
By Sara Sudetic