During the 2008 attack in Mumbai, the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist teams used VOIP and mobile phones to communicate with their Command and Control center in Karachi.
Lashkar-e-Taiba began using VOIP [Voice Over Internet Protocol] for communications in the early 2000s. The most commonly recognized VOIP in the U.S. is Skype. VOIP technology differs from telephone transmissions because it converts audio and video messages into binary data so it can travel over the Internet. Because it is binary data, VOIP communications can be encrypted. And that is what makes it so attractive to terrorists.
Unlike Al Qaeda, as the US arrived with our technological dominance, Lashkar-e-Taiba didn’t revert back to the Stone Age and fall back on passing hand written, couriered love letters to each other. Over the years, Lashkar-e-Taiba deliberately created their own IT department by recruiting and/or cultivating computer engineers, programmers and other highly skilled individuals into their terror organization. One of the results has been the development of their own custom, private version of VOIP which they call Ibotel.
Ibotel runs on GPRS (mobile data service on 2G or 3G cellular communication system) most likely out of servers in Lahore, Pakistan, and like Skype it is as portable as your mobile phone. And as you can guess, all communication on Ibotel is heavily restricted to only the most trusted insiders in Lashkar-e-Taiba, and all communication is encrypted.
While it is possible for intelligence agencies to track IP addresses and possibly email accounts used by LeT operatives over their Ibotel VOIP system, the contents of their messages remain impenetrable, and frustrate real time value of the information.
This makes it damn near impossible for intelligence to intercept and decrypt messages as they fly, giving LeT a high secure means of communicating exclusively with trusted members. Ibotel is so effective for convert comms, it is used by Lashkar supreme commander of operations, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai attack, to run operations from his smartphone out of his jail cell in Rawalpindi.
Why does Lakhvi have a smartphone with proprietary, encrypted VOIP access in his Pakistan jail cell? Ask the facepalm.
So now let’s geek out. As far back as 2008, James Bamford, best known for writing insanely telling books about the National Security Agency, suggested the NSA has the ability to crack encryption (see “Shadow Factory“). True? Maybe. There are varying levels of complexity in encryption. It is not farfetched to assume the NSA has the ability to break encryption up to a certain point, but the nature of the beast is the brick wall known as cold, hard math.
The NSA’s ability to crack encryption was reported on this spring, and then heavily denied by the NSA (oh surprise) immediately after. It isn’t too farfetched to imagine after years of working over encryption they are able to beat 64-bit or possibly even 128-bit encryption. The big question is whether the NSA is able to crack the big daddy of the bunch: the 256-bit AES algorithm. This is the standard encryption used by the US Government.
Stop and consider . . . if AES is broken, and we broke it, would we still be using it? (those of you with military experience may go ahead and take a moment for a facepalm based on the odds).
The next question then, is whether Lashkar-e-Taiba is using encryption on that level for their Ibotel system. Based upon the tactical sophistication of LeT operations and the inability of Indian intelligence to crack Ibotel, the answer is not likely to be good.
This is only one facet of the very dangerous Lashkar-e-Taiba. I cannot recommend enough everyone pay close attention to LeT. The enemy is getting good at their game.