The cybernetic dimension of DAESH's threat

(To Antonio Vecchio)

The defense ministers of the NATO countries that during the last meeting in Brussels, before the summer break, identify in the cybernetic space a new "operative theater" capable of triggering the Alliance 5 article, that of collective defense; Turkish President Erdogan, who in the midst of the attempted coup on Friday 15 calls citizens to the streets with the function FaceTime of your own mobile phone; the mad criminal of Nice, which radicalizes itself in the network in the three days preceding the action, visiting sites and apps of Islamist extremism.

Just a few examples of the importance of the web with its many social platforms plays in our age.

Useful for connecting people horizontally and sharing data. But also, if necessary, to misinform, in the framework - why not - of an asymmetrical, non-linear "hybrid" war played between contenders in positions of strong imbalance due to military strength and ability, or only lacking the will to use means more conventional to pursue one's goals.

The rapid technological development of recent years has dramatically changed the information environment.

The very nature of mass communication has changed: once dominated by few, governments, the media, who spoke to many; while today we are witnessing a multitude of sources that communicate freely with the entire network.

We are all nodes of a horizontal network, each able to do information in real time, and direct the course of events.

Accessibility, anonymity, speed, high traffic capacity, no geographical limitations, are the main possibilities offered by the world of Internet.he experiences an exponential growth: in January 2016 registered 3,4 billions of users, whose network access, in 38,6% of cases, takes place via mobile phones (it was 0.7% in 2009).

Great opportunities, not disjointed, however, by an excessive vulnerability for an environment that is still not very regulated and for the anonymity that reigns there undisturbed, facilitating those who intend to exploit the network to guide the opinions and will of others with disinformation and propaganda operations.

In this connective magma social platforms they play a preponderant role, used by 2,3 billions of people, with an increase of 12 individuals per second.

Now risen to the rank of (potential) weapon systems, they are used by states and non-state actors to pursue designated goals and fight their own wars.

Definable as "internet platforms and software used to acquire, store, aggregate, share, process, discuss and send generic content of the user or media interest, capable of influencing cognition, perception and acceptance and promoting behavior" are classified in:

  • social networks: Facebook, Myspace Linkedin;

  • visual social networks: Instagram, Perscope, Snapchat;

  • Blogs: Wordpress, Blogspot, Livejournal;

  • microblogging: Twitter;

  • content communities: YouTube, Vimeo;

  • instant messaging: Skype, Telegram, WhatsApp, Messenger;

  • location based services: Foursquare;

  • online gaming: World of Warcraft;

  • music sharing: Spotify.

The opportunities they make available to the network differ from the classic activities of the "cyber dimension" - normally aimed at destroying or preventing the use of physical infrastructures and services such as airports, stock exchanges, hospitals, control centers, banks - due to their peculiar ability to "influence", in a clear or covert way, the perception that individuals have of a given reality.

Achievable result ensuring on the net, with the use of spamming, of contents generated automatically by sites, bots, various applications, the constant visibility of a given message; or by using blogs, articles, posts in which a topic is continually re-proposed by fictitious authors and commentators; or even exploiting ashtags already in use by institutional bodies and official organizations.

On the other hand, these platforms can also be exploited in a defensive way, in the activities of targeting, to geo-locate the active profiles, or in the acquisition of information data on conversations, exchanges of video films and links present in active profiles.

Daesh has been able to capitalize on the possibilities offered by the new information environment.

In conjunction with the growing control of vast areas of Iraq and Syria, the intensive use of social media by the Caliphate has been increasingly evident.

Videos, radio news on Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and YouTube - to indicate the most used - have documented in real time not only the progress of operations on the ground, but also the life within the self-styled Islamic State, conveying the message of a consolidated state reality, with its own institutions, laws and a wellfare system.

The social platforms have made their own a narrative at 360 °, on three main directions - political, social and religious - which has reached masses of disillusioned young people in Europe, America and Asia, facilitating an intense work of proselytism, which - to quote a useful reference given to us by Paolo Quercia, an analyst at the Military Center for Strategic Studies (CEMISS) - in the four years of the Syrian-Iraqi conflict, attracted more foreigners than the 20.000: the same number of foreign fighters who reached Afghanistan since 1979 at the 1989.

A careful and casual use of the communication tool started in the 2010 with the publication of the digital magazine "Inspire", constantly aimed at a varied audience, the widest possible, in which the attention towards the psychological profile of potential users emerges.

It is no coincidence that 88% of the contents is visual (63% photos, 20% video and 5% drawings), precisely to "stimulate" the public, instilling in them a sense of belonging to a community of brave, pious, just men in opposition. to a blasphemous and corrupt West, which has so far prevented the full realization of Islam.

Even the images published by the main magazine of the organization, "Dabiq", always conveyed through social networks (in 12 languages), are for the 40% of political content, the religious 38 and social 14%.

Twitter is the main platform, mainly used to disseminate a wide range of contents, mostly consisting of short and easy to understand messages, most of which are of a musical nature (there are recurrent songs of various types), in which the religious theme (prayers, aphorisms, passages from the Koran) and that of the Caliphate, painted as the ideal state in which to express oneself as a believer and realize one's dreams.

A platform exploited in a redundant way, with a high number of accounts that can, however, safeguard the horizontal network of users in the event of an increasingly frequent closure of the profile.

The ISIS Twitter Census, research conducted by the Brooking Institute in the 2014, has estimated in no less than 46.000 (but could reach 70.000) the pro-Daesh twitter accounts, although most activity is recorded in no more than 2000 profiles.

A huge number of connections - (1 / 5 dei tweet is in English, ¾ in Arabic, each profile with 1000 on average followers) - aimed at establishing a first contact with potential affiliates, to be subsequently improved on “closed” platforms, such as Telegram, Kik, WhatsApp, with encrypted conversations.

As explained by Marco Strano, State Police psychologist, on the 1 supplement to the 2015 observatory of CEMISS: “Daesh exploits the viral spread, very fast (and at no cost) of text messages and images that are then commented and shared on social networks. The most effective posts / contents are those with a strong emotional charge, such as videos of performances and images of blood, which are disseminated by users primarily to exorcise the horror and to dissipate anxiety, but which also reach individuals who can manifest attraction reactions to these messages. (….) By exploiting the spider technique, or by spreading such contents while waiting for someone to remain entangled "

At this point, the implementation of a strategy not only containing the phenomenon is more urgent than ever, to be shared with the main ones player e provider of the sector (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) in order to temper the collective security needs with the privacy and personal freedoms of the users on the net.

Not only the closing of accounts and profiles, but also the use of algorithms aimed at flushing out cyber-jihadists - just as they did for child pornography - penetrating their connections into deep e Dark web, and the conduct of a widespread counter-information campaign, aimed at the same social user base (16-30 years), with the collaboration of government and non-governmental bodies, able to counter the narrative of terror.

Necessary measures, no longer postponed.