The director of the National Security Agency warned that the ideology of the Islamic State is “increasingly resonating” with its American sympathizers and the group’s success in gaining new recruits online is “a trend that is clearly increasing, not decreasing.”
In a report by CNN, Admiral Mike Rogers, who is also the head of U.S. Cyber Command, said that the Islamic State’s increased use of the internet is of “great concern” to the NSA.
"The thing I always look for is at what point do groups, for example, decide that they need to move from viewing the Internet as a source of recruitment, as a way to spread ideology, as a way to spread their message, their propaganda, do we see it move from that into something for greater concern as viewing it as a potential weapon system," Rogers said.
Rogers was referring to the terror group’s move from using the “surface” Internet to accessing the Deep or Dark Web to share intelligence and plan attacks worldwide.
The Deep Web, also referred to as the Invisible Web or the Hidden Web is the part of the World Wide Web that is not accessible or indexed by standard search engines, such as Google. The Dark Web, a subset of the Deep Web, consists of various browsers that make the user anonymous by bouncing communications to various countries worldwide.
Analysts say that 80% of all web activity takes place on the Hidden Web.
The job of Cyber Command is to track down the Islamic State in this uncharted territory.
Chris White of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency says that his agency has developed technology called MEMEX used by the military that acts as a search engine for the Hidden Web.
"MEMEX allows you to characterize how many websites there are and what kind of content is on them," White said. "It was actually first developed to track down human trafficking on the web -- it's an idea that works for an illicit activity users try to keep hidden."
However, despite programs like MEMEX, browsers that make users anonymous can still hide.
The other challenge, says Rogers is striking the right balance between issues of privacy and national security. The debate must be settled by the end of May when the law that gives authority to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court expires.
"We have got to create a framework for this program that enables it to generate its capabilities and insights to defend the nation, but we've got to do it in a way that ensures the privacy of our citizens and engenders greater confidence in our nation about what [the NSA] is doing," he commented.