A Russian man named Renad Bakiev was arrested by Turkish police after allegedly plotting to use a drone to attack an American military base, the Associated Press reports.
Bakiev is accused by police of taking steps to procure a drone to be used to attack the Incirlik Air Base, a prominent base used by the United States for missions in Iraq and Syria. Turkish authorities say Bakiev is a suspected Islamic State militant who has traveled to Syria and has attempted an attack on Americans before.
Police were tipped off to Bakiev’s plan after interrogating other terrorism suspects detained in a June counter-terror raid. Police say Bakiev used the social media app Telegram to solicit money for his operation.
Telegram is now a well-known tool for terrorist organizations to communicate, primarily due to its focus on privacy. When looking at the design of the app, it quickly becomes obvious why terrorists would gravitate towards it. Channels can be established within the app that any user can join. From there, invites to private conversations between users can be sent. Once in a private conversation, called a secret chat, encryption keys are exchanged between the users. This is what is known as end-to-end encryption, which means that even the Telegram cannot access the messages being sent between users.
Apps like Telegram and WhatsApp have taken substantial heat from government agencies and those in the media who wish for them to enable a “backdoor” to end-to-end encryption so that terrorism suspects can be monitored.
Former FBI Director James Comey was an ardent supporter of letting law enforcement and intelligence agencies have a backdoor into apps like Telegram, arguing that end-to-end encryption gave terrorists free rein to pass information and organize attacks. The most famous instance where end-to-end encryption finally came into conflict with the FBI was after the San Bernardino attack, when the FBI demanded that Apple let them have access to the shooter’s iPhone. After Apple refused, the FBI paid $900,000 for a private company to do it anyway.
Telegram has remained adamant about retaining their app’s encryption features, arguing that a backdoor only for “good guys” is impossible. A vulnerability such as this in an app would be exploited by hackers. And perhaps more to the point: “if you live in South America, Russia, China, or many other regions, you may find that the official use of those same backdoors may differ wildly from what you can expect in societies with a stronger rule of law.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force