New warnings from U.S. officials and lawmakers over tactics used by Islamic State online are putting renewed focus on the terror network’s activities.
FBI Director James Comey warned Thursday that ISIS is increasing their reliance on social media to spread their “poison” message.
This shows ISIS still remains unchallenged online, cybersecurity experts tell FoxNews.com.
“ISIS is just leveraging what is available today…what they have found is a virtual safe haven in the Internet … they use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube to get their message out,” said Jeff Bardin, chief intelligence officer at the cyber intelligence firm Treadstone 71.
He suggests a renewed effort to get terrorists off these mainstream online sites and “drive them to less well-known sites, maybe back into different forums or different chatrooms and try to monitor their activity there – it’s a balance we need to keep there.”
An estimated 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters, although not all of them were active at the same time from September to December 2014, according to a recent report from the Brookings Institution.
The report also finds a minimum of 1,000 ISIS-supporting accounts were suspended by Twitter within the same timeframe.
This is leading to a growing debate over the ability of U.S. intelligence officials and their private sector counterparts to get ahead of terror groups online.
“Social media is primarily useful as an offensive weapon because it can reach potential audience members and get them to act,” Max Abrahms, assistant professor at Northeastern University told FoxNews.com. “I expect governments to always be behind because the nature of the technology itself is best used for offensive purposes.”
The State Department is making a new push to monitor their social media activity. “We are trying to counteract them … I think we were a little surprised about how adaptive they were, how sophisticated they were in online media,” said Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel.
Though he added, “while they are doing 90,000 pieces of social media a day, Justin Bieber gets retweeted a million times a day” to compare the volume of information sent online.
“There needs to be a balance on where we allow them to participate and where we don’t,” said Bardin. “We have to gather information and intelligence from their online activities and we can counter the message.”
While social media has been beneficial for ISIS, Abrahms contends, this tactic can also backfire and “actually be counterproductive.” He points to several images and videos posted by the terror group in recent showing the brutal killing of their victims that turn away potential recruits rather than gaining their support.
Chris Snyder is a producer for Fox News based in New York. Follow him on twitter: @ChrisSnyderFox.