The United Kingdom has made a rare public admission that it has carried out a cyber offensive against the Islamic State terrorist group.
The admission, by the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ Jeremy Fleming, is the first time that this country has specifically eroded the online efforts of an enemy in a military campaign.
It comes after an official report from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC) at Christmas revealed that the UK has more than doubled the number of its offensive cyber-capabilities in recent years.
Fleming said the UK operation hindered the terrorist group’s ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.
“The outcomes of these operations are wide-ranging,” Fleming was quoted by the BBC as telling the Cyber UK conference in Manchester.
“In 2017 there were times when Daesh (another name for Islamic State) found it almost impossible to spread their hate online, to use their normal channels to spread their rhetoric, or trust their publications.”
Fleming reportedly said much of the cyber-operation was “too sensitive to talk about”, but had disrupted the group’s online activities and even destroyed equipment and networks.
“This campaign shows how targeted and effective offensive cyber can be,” he added.
Fleming said the fight against IS was not over, as the group continued to “seek to carry out or inspire further attacks in the UK” and find new “ungoverned spaces to base their operations”.
He cited the NotPetya ransomware attack on Ukraine last year, which eventually spread across the world. The UK and US have identified the Russian military as behind the attack, which Moscow has denied.
He cited the use of a nerve agent on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury was “stark and shocking”, and demonstrated “how reckless Russia is prepared to be”.
It comes after the international chemical weapons watchdog confirmed the UK’s analysis of the type of nerve agent used in the Russian ex-spy poisoning and said that it agreed with the UK conclusions.
The UK has been beefing up its offensive cyber capabilities for a number of years now. But its approach is two pronged.
Last Autumn Britain said it wanted Internet firms to remove extremist content from their sites and services in a such speedier fashion, with the aim to react to such content within two hours of its first appearing.
Meanwhile the UK has been steadily increasing its cyber funding.
Between 2011 and 2016, the Government had allocated £860m to the National Cyber Security Programme, and for the five years from 2016 to 2021, the Government significantly increased funding and allocated £1.9bn for the new National Cyber Security Strategy.
It is worth noting that allies such as the United States have said back in 2011 that it reserves the right to retaliate with military force against a cyber attack from a hostile state.
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