Using ‚Terrorist Encryption‘ Is a Good Way to Get Noticed by the NSA

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade (credit: Trevor Paglen)The//INTERCEPT
NSA headquarters in Fort Meade (credit: Trevor Paglen)The//INTERCEPT
If you’re a terrorist, perhaps you shouldn’t use terrorist-made encryption software—unless you want to paint a giant digital target on your back.

By Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai|MOTHERBOARD

n the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, which have laid bare a long list of NSA’s spying activities and techniques, many have feared that extremist groups such as Al Qaeda or ISIS would change their communication habits to avoid being spied on. In fact, several groups supporting Al Qaeda have gone so far as to develop three different versions of encryption software to scramble communications, according to a recent report.

But homegrown terrorist crypto might actually be good news for the NSA. According to new Snowden documents published on Wednesday by The Intercept, NSA analysts can easily identify messages sent using terrorist groups’ homegrown encryption tools.

Homegrown terrorist crypto might actually be good news for the NSA.

The documents provide more detail on a previously disclosed NSA system called XKEYSCORE, the agency’s all-powerful Google-like search tool. XKEYSCORE is graphical interface designed so that NSA analysts can easily search and sift through data captured by the spy agency’s myriad wiretaps on global internet fiber optic cables.

Analysts can use pre-determined, or customized, filters and keywords to look for, say, “individuals in Pakistan visiting certain German message boards,” all emails mentioning a certain word or phrase—or for anyone using the infamous terrorist crypto software known as Mojahedeen Secrets or Asrar al-Mujahideen.


As the NSA slide above clearly shows, Mojahdeen Secrets includes a unique string (“Begin ASRAR El Mohjadeen v2.0 Encrypted Message”) at the beginning of every message encrypted with the program.

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