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Terrorism, UK confirms use of offensive cyber techniques against Daesh

UK GCHQ director, Jeremy Fleming: For well over a decade, we pioneered the development and use of offensive cyber techniques. We conducted a major offensive cyber campaign against Daesh

“For well over a decade, starting in the conflict in Afghanistan, GCHQ has pioneered the development and use of offensive cyber techniques. And by that I mean taking action online that has direct real world impact”. This has been confirmed by Jeremy Fleming in his first speech as director of UK GCHQ, speaking at the CyberUK event in Manchester. “In recent years, we’ve worked closely with the Ministry of Defence and key allies to grow these capabilities at pace – he explained -. Much of this is too sensitive to talk about, but I can tell you that GCHQ, in partnership with the Ministry of Defence, has conducted a major offensive cyber campaign against Daesh. These operations have made a significant contribution to Coalition efforts to suppress Islamic State propaganda, hindered their ability to coordinate attacks, and protected coalition forces on the battlefield. This is the first time – Fleming underlined – the UK has systematically and persistently degraded an adversary’s online efforts as part of a wider military campaign”.

The outcome of the cyber operations against the Islamic State

“The outcomes of these operations are wide ranging – Fleming said -. We may look to deny service, disrupt a specific online activity, deter an individual or a group, or perhaps even destroy equipment and networks. In 2017 there were times when Daesh found it almost impossible to spread their hate online, to use their normal channels to spread their rhetoric, or trust their publications. Of course, the job is never done – they will continue to evade and re-invent. But this campaign shows how targeted and effective offensive cyber can be. And when you add this to the increased efforts CSPs have put into removing Islamic State material over the past year – GCHQ director added – you begin to understand the scale and resolve of the international effort to stop them”.

The war on terrorism online is not yet over

“The fight against Daesh is not over – GCHQ director stated -. They continue to seek to carry out or inspire further attacks, including here in the UK. We know they’re already seeking new ungoverned spaces to base their operations. Other terrorist groups will doubtless pick up their techniques – unfortunately, their legacy is likely to be online. And this technical savviness, this understanding of the potential of cyber capabilities extends way beyond terrorist groups”.

The complete Jeremy Fleming speech (file PDF)

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