Snowden takes on ISIS cryptographers

Apart from gruesome images and violent threats against Europe and its leaders, the latest ISIS propaganda video aired on Sunday contained another message that may have been missed by most.

The video, titled “Kill Them Wherever You Find Them,” opens with an alleged encrypted email, showing a sentence feared by intelligence agencies across the globe: “Begin PGP message.”

These three words signal the beginning of encrypted communication which can only be read by its sender and the intended receiver.

Even if an intelligence service succeeds in intercepting the message, without the proper decryption key it will only see a random blur of letters and numbers.

Seconds after this first sentence, a long cryptic message runs up the screen and seconds later is allegedly “decoded” into an English text revealing the locations of the November 13 Paris attacks.

The clip continues to show images of the coordinated Paris attacks in November, as well as security operations by French special forces during the onslaught.

“Allah! Allah! On this day we will create rivers of your blood. With Allah’s help we will be the ones who liberate Palestine,” is the final message delivered by Abu Omer al-Baljiki, considered the “mastermind” behind the Paris attacks.

At the end of the video, the group threatens attacks in Britain in response to its role in Syrian airstrikes.


By opening its latest video the way it did, the ISIS hoped to send a strong message, telling the world that it protects its internal communication from the spying eyes of intelligence services.

Lack of basic knowledge

However, it only took two letters to reveal the ISIS’s amateurish attempt at showing off its technological prowess.

H and O, the eighth and 15th letter of the Latin alphabet, neither of which appear in the hexadecimal system. Every coder and every programmer knows this, as to them, this fact is as basic as the ABC to first graders.

Computer programs are based on ones and zeros, the binary system. Since strings like 00010010010010011010110001110110 are difficult to understand for most humans, the binary system is translated into the hexadecimal system.

The hexadecimal system, also called base 16, is made up of 16 distinct symbols, most often 0–9 and A-F.

00010010010010011010110001110110 would therefore translate to 1249AC76 which is slightly easier to understand.

Other combinations for the 16 symbols of base 16 exist, but not one uses the letters O or H.

In other words, by boasting its technical superiority with a seemingly impressive “encrypted” message, ISIS only managed to prove its utter lack of basic programming knowledge.

Infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden was the first to point out the Islamic State’s blatant mistake with a tweet ridiculing the group.

“Journos: The #ISIS video’s “encrypted email” is confirmed fake. If any official responds as if it’s real, push back,” he wrote on Twitter, along with a graphic explaining the error.