On Jan. 12, Defense One reported that that the Islamic State allegedly built a new Android app called Alrawi for exchanging encrypted messages, based on claims from online counter-terrorism outfit Ghost Security Group (GSG). The claim was quickly reprinted by Newsweek, Fortune, TechCrunch, and the Times of India—the largest English-language newspaper in the world—among many others.
However, it seems as though hype and fear, rather than concrete evidence of a genuine tool for orchestrating terrorists attacks, played the primary role in propagating word of its existence.
GSG was unable to provide a version of Alrawi with encrypted communications, but they did point to a jihadist website offering custom-built software where GSG said they originally found the Alrawi encrypted messaging app.
So, where is the Alrawi encryption app?
Multiple security researchers who closely follow the Islamic State’s online activity say that they haven’t seen the Alrawi app being discussed or shared in any of ISIS’s online channels. Nobody from ISIS seems to know anything about this app, based on extensive online conversations viewed by the Daily Dot and other ISIS observers.
“Basically, [it's] a lot of bullshit over nothing,” Sehnaoui said. “I think it is just a bad media mock-up to try and get some attention. There is nothing even remotely professional or functional about both these apps.”
Ghost Security Group, whose claims are regularly featured in the media, says that it has a working relationship with U.S. counterterrorism officials, and it appears the group passes along information in an informal capacity.
Beyond news of the Alrawi app, GSG has proven its power to generate headlines. In addition to the popular publications that covered the Alrawi app, the group and its associates have been spotlighted by outlets as high-profile and wide-reaching as CNN, BBC, and Fox News. In each report, connections to the U.S. government provide the foundation for the group’s authority.