Technology helps terrorists 'go dark' when communicating online

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Months before the Paris terrorist attacks, FBI Director James Comey warned that ISIS was using encrypted communication to recruit and urge individuals to carry out attacks. Now investigators want to know if the communications helped to devise their plot for Paris, while remaining off the law enforcement radar. As a result, there is discussion about apps and video game technology that allow for communications to be hidden.

"You can definitely communicate with other players and anybody in that network and sending messages back and forth. In fact, that's quite a common occurrence of people playing games," said Loyola communications professor Andrew Nelson.

Technology has evolved to the point that new apps also allow users to communicate in ways that are difficult to track.

"I, or teenagers, can download apps that will encrypt messages that disappear within five seconds," Nelson said.

For an explanation of what encrypted messages are, we turned to Gary Wallace, an expert on information management and information security at Delgado College who has also worked with the Navy.

"Encryption is just basically that I'm hiding something in plain sight, and I give you one thing and it means something else." Wallace said.

Whether through video games, apps, or other digital devices, encryption tools are readily available to the general public.

"I can actually pause the game and hold a general conversation," said Dr. Wallace, talking about  video game technology.

So anti-terror forces face constant technical challenges.

"It is very hard for our officials to find these things today," said Wallace.

The digital media platform Snapchat has not been linked to terrorism, but it is one of the apps that gives post a short life.

"The benefits are you're posting something and then it disappears within 24 hours," said Loyola student Danielle Carbonari.

Carbonari runs the Snapchat component of the social media lab at Loyola. She said she personally would not mind if the government peeked into such platforms for security reasons, but said some other casual users may find it problematic.

"On my Snapchat I don't think are things the government's looking for necessarily," said Carbonari.

And given the times in which we live, it may be a good idea not to communicate online with someone you don't know.

"The main thing today is not just to gain control of your computer to become you, it's gaining control of your computer and go somewhere else and do something bad," Wallace said.

"If you don't know the source be wary about it," said Professor Nelson.

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