FBI director James Comey has warned that increased encryption and social media are being exploited by terrorists such as Islamic State to plan attacks and advertise for new recruits.
Addressing a Senate judiciary committee in Washington DC, Comey focused on the threat from Islamic State, which he claimed has exploited secure internet communications to a greater extent than any other terrorist organisation.
"It is Islamic State's widespread reach through the internet and social media which is most concerning as Islamic State has aggressively employed this technology for its nefarious strategys," he said.
"Islamic State blends traditional media platforms, glossy photos, in-depth articles and social media campaigns that can go viral in a matter of seconds."
Comey further warned that encryption is making it harder for the FBI to combat sophisticated cyber threats.
"This real and growing gap, to which the FBI refers as ‘Going Dark', is an area of continuing focus for the FBI. We believe it must be addressed given that the resulting risks are grave in traditional criminal matters as well as in national security matters," he said.
"On a daily basis, cyber-based actors seek our state secrets, our trade secrets, our technology and our ideas - things of incredible value to all of us and of great importance to the conduct of our government business and our national security."
Indeed, recent hacks at high-profile US institutions such as the Office of Personnel Management have resulted in the loss of a significant amount of federal data.
"We continue to see an increase in the scale and scope of reporting on malicious cyber activity that can be measured by the amount of corporate data stolen or deleted, personally identifiable information compromised, or remediation costs incurred by US victims," said Comey.
The US government is "actively engaged" with private companies, Comey said, but the Obama administration will not seek legislation forcing companies to decrypt data.
His comments on encryption are echoed by Andrew Parker, general director of MI5, who said that apps using encryption are now being used by terrorists, which poses a risk to UK citizens.
"MI5 and others need to be able to navigate the internet to find terrorists' communications. We need to be able to use data sets so we can join the dots to find and stop the terrorists who mean us harm," he said.
"We've been pretty successful at that in recent years but it's becoming more difficult as technology changes faster and faster and encryption comes in."
However, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, recently branded the UK government's plan to ban encryption in mobile apps as "moronic".
"It is not feasible in any sense of the word for the UK to ban end-to-end encryption. It's a completely moronic and stupid thing to do. We all have a very strong interest in a safe and secure internet," he said.
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