ISIS use Tor and Bitcoin to fund terrorism

Christopher Sewerd In the News

New reports indicate that not only is the western world making use of the so-called “dark web” and cryptocurrencies but a new more sinister twist involves those who oppose western values and the democratic world, namely the terrorist group ISIS who may also be getting in on the act.

Tor and Bitcoin have become commonplace words in the world recently and even those who don’t take an interest in the privacy or online movement are likely to have heard of both. The “dark web” or “deep web” accessible by using services such as Tor are regularly mentioned both in the tech media and everyday news.

Tor & Bitcoin, oh those crime enablers?

While Tor and Bitcoin have extremely legitimate uses for many users especially those in repressive regimes, both systems are often referred to in relation to cybercrime. Most notably both became synonymous with the online drug bazaar Silk Road and is often the first thought to cross the conscious of the public when mentioning either name.

For those who understand the systems slightly more and acknowledge the entirely legitimate purposes of them view both as groundbreaking and exciting technologies. However, while those in the western world champion them as enabling freedom, privacy and the free flow of both information and currency as we know it a darker more sinister purpose has now being exposed.

ISIS using our own tech to fund themselves

ISIS or ISIL the Islamic state terrorist group have been making waves around the world in the past 12 months with a raft of atrocities that make most in the western world and elsewhere shudder with disgust. A relatively unknown group just a few years previously it has now grown to an estimated 31,500 members by western intelligence estimates and up to 200,000 if other sources are to be believed.

Such a large organisation needs professional funding and governments around the world have done their best to stop traditional banking methods being used to fund terrorist organisations. Systems available to us are also available to those that oppose us and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are reportedly being used by the likes of ISIS.

The threat is already real with a document being discovered online penned by an author named Amreeki Witness called “Bitcoin wa Sadaqat alJihad” which loosely translates to “Bitcoin and the Charity of Violent Physical Struggle”. The author of the document is given as Taqi’ul­Deen al­Munthir which means “Righteous in Faith the-Warner”.

The document mentions sites such as Silk Road and other underground marketplaces that could be used to purchase weapons without issue to further the cause of the Mujahideen. With ISIS recently announcing they could possibly buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan in the near future and claims of having “billions of dollars in the bank” it would make sense that money could have been laundered through cryptocurrency systems such as Bitcoin.

News network KRDO reported a user who wished to remain anonymous had seen websites on the dark web that allowed supports to donate to terrorist organisations.

Terrorist discussion goes underground

The threat to security does not stop with the ability for sympathisers to move large amounts of cash across borders with immunity but also finds a home in the “dark web”, the underground web that allows anonymity and access to sites that are not visible to the general internet population.

By making use of the Tor service ISIS and other terrorists groups can discuss and dissipate information related to their cause with no repercussion and due to the location of information being anonymised the authorities can do little to stop it.

Concern about anonymous web use and pseudo-anonymous money transfer is so great that head of US Treasury department the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), Jennifer Shasky Calvery stated digital currency is what keeps her awake at night due to the way in which ISIS can capitalise on its use.

So while the tech world rejoices at the ability to anonymize their internet use and take currency dealings away from central banks it also removes the checks and balances that have been in places for centuries to stop this type of terrorist funding. We may now be sleepwalking ourselves into an irreversible situation.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at