The UK has conducted a “major offensive cyber-campaign” against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ has revealed.
The operation hindered the group’s ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed their propaganda, former MI5 agent Jeremy Fleming said.
It is the first time the UK has systematically degraded an adversary’s online efforts in a military campaign.
Mr Fleming made the remarks in his first public speech as GCHQ director.
“The outcomes of these operations are wide ranging,” he told the Cyber UK conference in Manchester.
“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.”
Mr Fleming said the cyber-operations had disrupted the group’s online activities and even destroyed equipment and networks.
“This campaign shows how targeted and effective offensive cyber can be.”
Mr Fleming also criticised Russia over what he called “unacceptable cyber-behaviour”.
He said 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”.
“The robust response from the UK and from the international community shows the Kremlin that illegal acts have consequences. And it looks like our expertise on Russia will be in increasing demand,” he said.
He also described some of GCHQ’s other goals, which included tracking down people who use the dark web to distribute child sex abuse images.