'Al Qaeda on your Android': Smartphones new frontier in terror war

Aviation authorities played down fears, claiming that current software is not vulnerable to a terrorist takeover. But radical groups are embracing new smartphone platforms.

Suspected Yemeni al-Qaeda militants sit with handcuffs. Credit: Getty Images Suspected Yemeni Al Qaeda militants sit in handcuffs.
Credit: Getty Images

 

A smartphone app that could hijack an airplane using an Android phone, according to its developer, was unveiled last week. "You can use this system to modify everything related to navigation of the plane," announced U.S. developer Hugo Teso, who created PlaneSploit to test security.

 

Aviation authorities played down fears, claiming that current software is not vulnerable to a terrorist takeover. But radical groups are embracing new smartphone platforms.

 

“We are hearing that Al Qaeda-linked groups are developing something similar (to PlaneSploit),’’ Nico Prucha, scholar of Fariq Jawwal Al-Ansar (FJA) — Al Qaeda’s digital branch — at the University of Vienna, told Metro. “The main focus of their handbook is recruitment and propaganda through Bluetooth packages, but we are also seeing more sophisticated mobile hacks.”

 

Mobiles are increasingly vulnerable – a recent report found malware attacks on them increased 163% in 2012. More than 95% of these targeted Android phones, with thousands of popular apps for the platform used to allow hostile takeover.

“The switch toward phones and away from computers is phenomenal,” Nigel Stanley, mobile expert at Bloor security, told Metro. “The most common attacks come through popular games from nonlicensed app stores – and terror groups use them to make the phone a ‘spy device’ or to steal funds.”

Security has improved around FJA programmes, with communication encrypted and anonymous. "It's more difficult to follow them now, and the message are distributed quickly and efficiently," says Prucha.

Yet applications are also used to fight terrorists. In 2012, the U.S. government released the Tag Challenge app aiming to crowdsource information on suspects, while Tactical Nav follows Taliban activities.

 
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