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UK Ran Cyber Op to Cripple ISIS Communications: Services Chiefs

The operation included disabling drone capabilities, disrupting communication by jamming operatives’ phones, and targeting servers to block online propaganda

UK intelligence and military chiefs recently revealed details of a classified cyber operation they ran to weaken ISIS in 2016-17.

While the British government’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ acknowledged the cyber mission three years ago, details have remained under wraps until now.

The multi-pronged operation involved weakening the terror organization by targeting it ideologically and operationally, the two services chiefs revealed in a Sky News podcast.

The operation included disabling the organization’s drone capabilities, disrupting their communication by jamming their operatives’ phones, and targeting servers to block online propaganda, the report added, citing Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, and General Sir Patrick Sanders, head of UK Strategic Command.

ISIS Cyber Dependence

The operation was launched after it became clear that the group was chiefly relying on cyber technology to release propaganda, for recruitment, command and control, and planning, the report said.

“It was a very cheap and effective way of waging terrorist warfare,” Sanders explained.

“What we wanted to do was to turn that strength, that dependence that they had on the cyber into a vulnerability, and also to undermine the credibility of their information campaign and of their ideology.”

Crippling Group’s Cyber Capabilities

The chiefs further revealed that UK operatives penetrated ISIS servers to get to the places where the terror group had “stored their material” for extremist propaganda.

“We wanted to ensure that when they tried to coordinate attacks on our forces, their devices didn’t work, that they couldn’t trust the orders that were coming to them from their seniors,” Sanders added.

“We wanted to deceive them and to misdirect them, to make them less effective, less cohesive, and sap their morale.”

The cyber offensives were reinforced by ground actions involving special forces, Iraqi military, and local resistance groups, Financial Times said without revealing any specific details.

The UK’s New Cyber Force

The revelations come just two months after the British government confirmed the existence of the National Cyber Force (NCF), active since April last year, to counter threats from terrorists, criminals, and hostile states. 

Apart from GCHQ and the ministry of defense, NCF also has MI6 officers working for them as part of a new unified command.

The new entity institutionalizes the role of cyber warfare as part of military operations.

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