ACI Journal Articles


Innovation and Adaptation in Jihadist Digital Security

Document Type


USMA Research Unit Affiliation

Army Cyber Institute

Publication Date



The importance of the internet to contemporary jihadists as a tool for recruitment, propaganda and operational planning is well established. Less thoroughly studied are the ways in which jihadists work to keep this activity secure from monitoring and disruption, and in particular the ways in which they innovate and adapt to changes in the technological environment. Online forums, training manuals, tweets, blogs, Facebook posts and other forms of communication point towards a jihadist community that is alert to changes in both the technology and the laws and policies of its adversaries. Supporters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and resurgent elements of al-Qaeda make use of increasingly decentralized online networks to learn and spread technical knowledge. These communities operate outside of the groups’ zones of physical control, exploit emerging technologies and develop novel technical solutions when their communications and organizational infrastructure is challenged. This cycle of innovation and adaptation, informed by community learning and external information sources, is a challenge to intelligence and law-enforcement efforts to stop potential terrorist attacks.

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