VoIP Aided Terror Attack in India

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The Mumbai terrorists' most powerful weapon appears not to have been guns or grenades, but instead their handheld VoIP phones, which allowed them to get detailed, live instructions from handlers on how to evade police, and where to attack next, while the police where powerless to detect them. So reports the New York Times.

According to the Times, "handlers" based in Pakistan

"...were apparently watching the attacks unfold live on television, were able to inform the attackers of the movement of security forces from news accounts and provide the gunmen with instructions and encouragement..."

The Times reports that the handlers were communicting with the attackers using VoIP phones that made it difficult, if not impossible, for the Indian authorities to intercept the calls, or even know they were taking place.

Here's how the Times explains it:

"Indian security forces surrounding the buildings were able to monitor the terrorists’ outgoing calls by intercepting their cellphone signals. But Indian police officials said those directing the attacks, who are believed to be from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group based in Pakistan, were using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service, which has complicated efforts to determine their whereabouts and identities."

The biggest problem wasn't in determining the whereabouts or identities of those directing the attack, but in being able to intercept their communications. If the authorities could intercept the communications, they could know the terrorists' next actions.

According to the article, the use of VoIP by terrorists is nothing new. It reports:

"In mid-October, a draft United States Army intelligence report highlighted the growing interest of Islamic militants in using VoIP, noting recent news reports of Taliban insurgents using Skype to communicate."

There is a little bit of good news here, though. According to the Times, "The (security) experts said that VoIP calls left a far richer data trail for investigators to mine than someone calling from an old-fashioned pay phone."

Of course, that assumes that investigators have the capability to actually mine that data. And in India, at least, they didn't have it during the attacks.

This story, "VoIP Aided Terror Attack in India" was originally published by Computerworld.

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