​Secure messaging app Telegram suspends 78 ISIS accounts

Amid claims that secure messaging app Telegram is the go-to tool for ISIS the company says it’s suspended 78 accounts affiliated with the terror group.

The Berlin-based startup issued a statement today to signal action it’s taken against accounts used to distribute terrorist propaganda, following claims it is the preferred messaging tool for terrorists.

“We were disturbed to learn that Telegram's public channels were being used by ISIS to spread their propaganda,” Telegram said in a statement on Wednesday.

“As a result, this week alone we blocked 78 ISIS-related channels across 12 languages.”

According to a Canada-based academic, some of those public channels — which are not encrypted — had 16,000 members.

If reports are correct, ISIS is telling its supporters to move their online communications to Telegram, which has about 60 million users and claims to be a truly secure and private messaging platform for iOS, Android and desktop machines.

Telegram has come under scrutiny previously, mostly related to its claims over the sturdiness of the encryption it uses to protect messages, but following Friday's attacks in Paris the app -- and others like it -- are now causing anxieties due to governments’ inability to monitor end-to-end encrypted communications.

In October the Middle East Media Research Institute singled out Telegram as one of the key secure messaging apps that ISIS and Al-Qaeda were using it to privately share content with followers.

Since then ISIS has moved the Al-Hayat Media Center, its media division to the so-called “dark web”, where it is accessible only via the Tor browser. According to a report by The Daily Beast on Monday, ISIS has used its presence on the dark web to encourage ISIS supporters to use Telegram.

Read more: The week in security: Windows servers, iOS, Macs softer targets than you want to believe

Telegram isn’t widely known, and its founder, Pavel Durov, is likely unfamiliar to anyone in the West outside of tech startups. Durov founded Russia’s answer to Facebook VKontakte, in 2006, a social network for mostly Russian-speaking users. Vkontake made Durov a multi-millionaire until he gave it all up — or was outmanoeuvred into resignation — in early 2014 after a dispute with the Kremlin.

Durov’s reactions to pressure to censor content on his platforms make him a curious character. He reportedly defied a request by the Kremlin to remove pages from Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, signalling a bent for free speech in that context.

Yet, on Tuesday Durov echoed Syria's president Bashar al-Assad in blaming the Paris attacks on France’s foreign policy.

“I think the French government is as responsible as ISIS for this, because it is their policies and carelessness which eventually led to the tragedy,” said Durov in an Instagram post on Tuesday .

“They take money away from hardworking people of France with outrageously high taxes and spend them on waging useless wars in the Middle East and on creating parasitic social paradise for North African immigrants.”

As for concerns over the impenetrability of Telegram’s encryption, US privacy advocates and cryptography experts have been sceptical of the company’s claims since it touted a $300,000 reward for anyone who could break its encryption.

“The UX is nice. The crypto is like being stabbed in the eye with a fork,” wrote Matthew Green, a cryptography lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, on Twitter on Thursday.

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