These popular sites double as terrorist networking sites and allow Osama bin Laden’s operatives to not only hide in plain sight but also spread propaganda, recruit new members, find fund-raisers and coordinate their activities. Terrorists also use electronic dead drops to avoid their e-mail from getting intercepted during transit and PayPal to raise funds easily. Shutting down these operations is nearly impossible.

Terrorist networks have moved from relying on “fixed” private Web sites to free Internet e-mail and social networking sites that are nearly impossible to shut down, ABC News reports.

News Corporation’s MySpace, Google’s Orkut and Friendster all provide free member-to-member messaging, photo storage space, bulletin boards, blogs and personal profiles. All these features make the sites attractive to terrorists who are promoting terrorism and recruiting non-Arabic-speaking Westerners, USA Today reports.

Orkut has at least 10 groups devoted to supporting Osama bin Laden or jihad against the U.S., according to the newspaper. The biggest community has over 2,000 members, links to the Islamic Army in Iraq and shows videos and pictures of attacks on U.S. soldiers.

In recent years, terrorists have developed their own encryption tools and started using the 21st-Century version of the classic “dead dropping,” which allows two people to exchange information at a location without the need to be there at the same time, writes Eben Kaplan, of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Free e-mail services, like Yahoo! and Hotmail, allows terrorists to save their e-mail in the draft box for others to retrieve it using the same password. Since the e-mail does not leave the server, the only ways for intelligence agencies to see them are to hack the account and monitor the servers.

Media-savvy terrorist supporters have used the Internet to accept PayPal donations. “Irhabi 007,” now in Scotland Yard’s custody after eluding the authorities for years, used his hacking abilities to securely disseminate training manuals and propaganda videos and shared his skills with others. His work was crucial in uploading and distributing a 45-minute propaganda video made by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

“Juba” the Baghdad sniper has struck fear in U.S. soldiers who have no idea whether they will be the next victim of this highly trained gunman. The unidentified sniper and his associates claim they killed 143 U.S. soldiers and wounded 54 in just one year. He videotapes his shootings and uploads them to the Web.

The horrifying irony in these examples is how the terrorists have successfully used our way of life — whether checking Gmail or keeping friends up to date on MySpace — against us. And there is little we can do to stop them.