In the weeks since the Islamic state captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, a flurry of activity has been going on on the internet.
The Islamic State’s social media accounts have been bombarded with videos, tweets, and photos showing what appear to be the execution of Western hostages, including Americans John Foley and Steven Sotloff, and French journalist Stephane Charbonnier.
And yet the group has so far managed to keep it secret.
That has left many worried.
Here’s how to tell whether your information has been compromised and why.
Read moreA lot of these accounts have now been suspended or taken down, and it’s unclear how many of the videos or photos are still available online.
But as BuzzFeed News has reported, the Islamic group is using social media to organize propaganda, recruit followers, and communicate with other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.
The group is also encouraging members to share their grievances on social media.
The Islamic State group’s efforts to spread its message through social media have drawn the attention of cybersecurity experts.
“It’s a serious problem,” says Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity researcher at Johns Hopkins University.
“I think the only way to prevent it from happening is to be able to make sure that these groups are not communicating and sharing information with each other in ways that might be a problem.”
Some experts are concerned that the Islamic emirate of ISIS may be using the internet to spread propaganda online, using the platforms to spread their extremist message, while others argue that the group is doing the opposite.
“They are spreading their message through their own channels,” says Schneier.
“This is their way of trying to use social media for propaganda, to try and make people believe that they are more important than they really are.”
A number of the Islamic groups that have been targeting civilians in the area of Mosul have been using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with each others followers.
ISIS has even reportedly started using the hashtags #Jihad2016 and #KillingJihad on the groups’ official social media channels, to help recruit more fighters.
But the fact that the groups are using these platforms, says Schneiers, means that they might also be using them to recruit members to their cause.
“These are the people who are not necessarily the people in the fight, but they are willing to die for the cause,” he says.
Schneier says that the social media platforms could also be used by the group to recruit new fighters.
“These are people who could be used to help the Islamic people in a number of ways,” he adds.
“There’s a real danger that these kinds of groups are being used by ISIL to recruit, because they’re using social platforms to recruit and recruit.
There’s a lot of information available about ISIL’s recruiting campaigns.”
For example, the group used social media in the spring of 2017 to send out a series of messages that were aimed at recruiting Western tourists to its cause, the Daily Beast reported in May.
The messages included images of American flags and the hashtag #JihadiSpring.
A number of Westerners were killed in the battle against ISIS.
Schneier thinks the groups use of social media is likely to be a form of recruitment, not propaganda.
“If these are actually just propaganda messages, it’s probably not the best use of the social platform, since it’s not going to help them recruit new members,” he explains.
But that doesn’t mean the Islamic extremists will be able keep their secrets from their online followers.
“A lot more of them are actually communicating in real time with their supporters and their families,” Schneier adds.
“So the people are actually having to do the work for the Islamic organization.”
And in the event that an online threat has been detected, the social networks can send messages to their followers to alert them to the situation.
“People are not going down to their homes and having to worry about it all the time, and they have to go and deal with it themselves,” Schneiers says.