GCHQ’s new director has revealed that last year, the UK has conducted a large-scale cyber-attack against ISIS that was designed to suppress online terrorist propaganda and hinder ISIS's ability to coordinate attacks.
Growing For A Decade
Confirmation that the attack took place came as part of the first public speech by GCHQ’s new director and former MI5 agent, Jeremy Fleming. During his speech at the National Cyber Security Centre's (NCSC) flagship event in Manchester, Mr Fleming said that the cyber attack is just the latest part in what have been GCHQ’s efforts to grow its online counterterrorism capabilities over more than a decade.
The outcomes of cyber attacks as weapons against any enemy can range from denying online services, disrupting a specific online activity, and deterring individuals or groups, to effectively destroying equipment and networks.
The UK’s cyber-attack against ISIS is reported to have degraded the terror group’s online infrastructure, made a significant contribution to coalition efforts to suppress any Daesh propaganda, hindered the terror group’s ability to coordinate attacks, and provided more protection for coalition forces on the battlefield.
It seems that this latest big cyber-attack success is only the tip of the iceberg, as a report by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has said that GCHQ spies had "over-achieved" in 2017, and that GCHQ had delivered on the first of three stages in its mission to bolster its cyber capabilities thanks to staging almost twice as many potential hacks than its targets.
Russia In The Spotlight
The recent deterioration of the relationship between the West and Russia means that its cyber-behaviour, as well as that of ISIS, is now reported to be more of a focus for GCHQ. In the director’s speech in Manchester, Mr Fleming said that the Russian state should be held accountable for what it does, and that the UK will continue to respond to malicious cyber-activity in conjunction with international partners such as the United States.
Another helpful tool that could be used to combat terrorist propaganda online could include the auto-blocker for extremist content that was mentioned by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. The tool, which Home Secretary Rudd would like to see adopted by ISPs can be configured to detect 94% of extremist video uploads.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
It stands to reason that the UK is launching its own cyber-attacks against what it sees as legitimate targets elsewhere in the world. Cyber-attack and security capabilities are now being used worldwide to support military operations, damage enemy communications and infrastructure and thereby degrade the threat they pose, as well as protecting home infrastructure and vital networks.
Attacks by other states, criminal and terror groups e.g. hacks, DDoS attacks and viruses, can end up impacting many UK businesses, so its good to hear that GCQH, MI5 and other actors are ‘over-achieving’ in their efforts to protect the UK, and reduce the threats that we face in a time of shifting geopolitical and technological landscapes. We can assume, therefore, that the successful actions of our security agencies must be indirectly protecting many of the interests of UK businesses.