The United States has opened up a new front of cyber attacks against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as Pentagon looks to intensify the fight against terrorists. The US has directed the military’s six-year-old Cyber Command for the first time to mount computer-network attacks to be used alongside more traditional weapons.
The effort reflects US President Barack Obama’s long standing desire to bring secret US cyber weapons into play in the fight against ISIS, which happens to be very commuter savvy in using modern communications and encryption to recruit and carry out operations.
The goal of the new campaign is to disrupt the ability of IS to electronically spread its message, attract new members, circulate in party messages and carry out day-to-day functions, such as paying its fighters. A US-led coalition of warplanes has been striking IS targets in Iraq and Syria since August 2014, but it is only now using cyber techniques as well to limit the group’s communications and ability to reach potential new recruits.
The Pentagon is being careful not to reveal the precise ways it is targeting Islamic State through the use of expanded cyber weaponry, concerned that any clues could help the terror network avoid future attacks. It is depending on one key element: the element of surprise.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said, “Most importantly, we don’t want the enemy to know when, where, and how we’re conducting cyber operations.”
The National Security Agency (NSA), which specializes in electronic surveillance, has been conducting surveillance over IS militants, and those reports are often part of the President’s daily intelligence briefing. Now the NSA’s military counterpart, Cyber Command, has been directed to conduct cyber attacks on IS.
The Cyber Command, which operates from its base near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, has been kept secret since its formation in 2009. Cyber command had been focused on traditional adversaries like Iran, Russia and China and had not trained its sights on ISIS until recently.
The US Cyber Command is charged with protecting America’s military and some civilian networks from attacks, as well as deploying its own offensive cyber strategies if needed. Currently, one team of about 65 cyber experts is carrying out operations against IS networks in Middle East.
Though such acceptance of cyber attacks is not usual, experts believe that the US is doing so to develop distrust among IS militants over their own communications.
Interviews with more than a half-dozen senior and mid-level officials indicate that the effort has begun with a series of ‘implants’ in the militants’ networks to learn the online habits of commanders. Now, the plan is to imitate them or alter their messages, with the aim of redirecting militants to areas more vulnerable to attack by US drones or local ground forces.
The impact of the Islamic State terrorist group is felt around the world. It is the worlds most dreaded terrorist organization. ISIS has been successful at recruiting supporters in large part because it is so techno-savvy. It has a well-oiled social media machine, which cranks out PR-type content that encourages unsuspecting, gullible people into recruiting themselves as jihadists.
So what’s the best way to counter that? If you’re an average citizen, you might participate in Troll ISIS Day on social media. But if you’re the U.S. military, you launch sophisticated cyber attacks that target the cyber functioning and puts a spanner in their entire works.