Paris terrorists resorted to using burner phones, not encryption, to avoid detection

French investigators found plenty of burner phones used by the Paris attackers, but no sign of encryption -- yet The New York Times still found a way to suggest encryption was used.

Paris gargoyles
Credit: Sam Nabi

Oh the Paris terrorists must have used encryption to evade detection we’ve heard again and again since the attacks; come to find out, the attackers resorted to using burner phones.

Having gotten its hands on a 55-page report prepared by French police and given to France’s Interior Ministry, The New York Times reported that disposable phones played a big part in how the Paris terrorist avoided detection. “They used only new phones that they would then discard, including several activated minutes before the attacks, or phones seized from their victims.”

“Everywhere they went, the attackers left behind their throwaway phones,” The Times said. In fact, “investigators found crates’ worth of disposable cellphones.” Days after the attack, when the police raided an apartment where the attackers were believed to have hiding, they found “several dozen boxes of unused cellphones still in their wrappers.” And “two unused cellphones still inside their boxes” were discovered at another location. The police found a Samsung phone in the trash outside the Bataclan theater; it had been used to place one call on the day before the attack.

On those burner phones, The Times reported that “not a single email or online chat from the attackers has surfaced so far.” And then it happens…

Et tu, Brute?—or NYT in this case as even though there’s been no evidence uncovered to prove the terrorists were using encryption, The Times still finds a way to suggest encryption must have been used since authorities didn’t detect chatter foreshadowing the attack. Perhaps it is because previous terrorists were hunted down after “sending unencrypted messages that were intercepted” and the Paris attackers were not? Or perhaps the terrorists knew that using encryption paints a red bull’s-eye of suspicion on your back and marks you as a NSA target?

Despite repeatedly mentioning the use of burner phones, The Times suggested there are “lingering questions” about “the precise encryption and security procedures that allowed the attackers to evade detection during the three months before they struck.”

And then it gets weirder. The New York Times wrote:

One of the terrorists pulled out a laptop, propping it open against the wall, said the 40-year-old woman. When the laptop powered on, she saw a line of gibberish across the screen: “It was bizarre — he was looking at a bunch of lines, like lines of code. There was no image, no Internet,” she said. Her description matches the look of certain encryption software, which ISIS claims to have used during the Paris attacks.

What the…? Are you kidding me right now? Why not suggest that maybe the attacker was part of the Matrix too? Many privacy, security and tech experts have offered alternatives for what the woman saw. What about a non-GUI Linux distro? Or, for example, Julian Sanchez tweeted that she could have been seeing “verbose boot.” Sanchez added, “Encrypted communication does not look like some s**t you saw in a 90s Sandra Bullock movie. It looks like iMessage.”

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