Islamic State utilizes the Internet to carry out a significant amount of their recruiting foreign fighters, disseminating propaganda as well as coordinating attacks. The United States is about to make that a much more arduous task for ISIS by launching massive cyber warfare attacks against the terrorist group.
During a Pentagon press briefing on Monday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said they are aiming cyber attacks at disrupting ISIL’s military communications and operations.
The campaign will seek to “disrupt ISIL’s command and control, to cause them to lose confidence in their networks, to overload their network so that they can’t function, and do all of these things that will interrupt their ability to command and control forces there, control the population and the economy,” Carter told reporters at the Pentagon.
Dunford didn’t provide exact strategies on how they will tackle ISIS, but he did provide some insight:
“The secretary has talked a lot about physically isolating ISIL. In other words, isolating Raqqa, isolating Mosul, keeping the lines of communications between the two being separate, dividing Iraq and Syria up, making life difficult for the — for the — for ISIL. I think conceptually, that’s exactly the same thing we’re trying to do in the cyber world. In other words, we’re trying to both physically and virtually isolate ISIL, limit their ability to conduct command and control, limit their ability to communicate with each other, limit their ability to conduct operations locally and tactically.”
The hope is that the cyber attacks will hobble their digital communications so much so that it will force them to use more traditional voice/radio communications. The U.S. military can attack this form of communications through electronic warfare, and cause massive confusion and ineffectiveness.
“We don’t want them to have information that will allow them to adapt over time,” said Dunford, who is a four-star general. “We want them to be surprised when we conduct cyber operations, and frankly, they’re going to experience some friction that’s associated with us and some friction that’s just associated with the normal course of events in dealing in the information age.”
The planned digital assaults are the first acknowledged use of cyber warfare in a conflict since Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), an armed forces sub-unified command located at Fort Meade, Maryland, was launched on June 23, 2009.
“Plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes and conducts activities to: direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”
Last week while speaking at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he doesn’t want terrorist groups using Facebook to attract and train new recruits and celebrate attacks.
On February 5, Twitter posted a blog post stating that they had suspended more than 125,000 accounts since mid-2015 for threatening or promoting terrorist acts, which were mostly related to ISIS.
Those actions prompted the Sons Caliphate Army, a purported hacking division of the Islamic State, to create a 25-minute video that threatened Zuckerberg and Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey. In the video titled “Flames of the Supporters,” there were photos of Zuckerberg and Dorsey with digitally added bullet holes.
A slide towards the end of the video says:
“To Mark and Jack, founders of Twitter and Facebook / and to their Crusader government / You announce daily that you suspended many of our accounts / And to you we say: Is that all you can do? You are not in our league. If you close one account we will take 10 in return and soon your names will be erased after we delete you [sic] sites, Allah willing, and will know that we say is true. #Sons_Caliphate_Army”
Carter stated that kicking terrorist groups and their supporters off social media platforms does not hamper the military’s ability to find them and destroy their online efforts.
“We can’t allow them to freely command and control forces that are enemy forces, so it’s just like any other war,” Carter said. “We have to attack their command-and-control. This is one of the ways of doing it. But it may have, actually, a beneficial effect of driving them to the kinds of communications that it’s in fact easier for us to disrupt, and listen to also.”
“We’re trying to make life difficult for ISIL and we’re trying to stay step ahead of them,” Dunford said. “So we’re trying to force them to make changes. We’re trying to disrupt their communications, and then we can anticipate some of the adaptations they’re going to make and be a step ahead of them, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
I imagine that the U.S. military will be more successful at eradicating ISIS online than Anonymous.