The US military is “almost certainly” trying to hack ISIS before a major ground operation kicks off, according to a cybersecurity executive with close ties to the military.
“I think it’s basically fair to say it’s unusual to launch a major kinetic operation today without it having a cyber component,” Nate Fick, a former Marine officer who is now the CEO of Endgame, told Tech Insider.
Before most military operations are carried out, commanders write up detailed orders on what the mission is, who’s doing what, what the enemy might do, and plans for aircraft or other assets offering support.
Now with offensive hacking taking on a greater role in the military, cyber operations are another asset at their disposal.
“When a special operations raid force goes into wherever, in Iraq or Syria, in order to fight ISIS, there’s almost certainly a cyber component to that mission,” Fick said.
According to Forbes, Endgame itself supplies the government with offensive hacking tools, such as one that allows a user to “zero in on a computer and see its vulnerabilities along with a list of publicly available techniques to hack it.”
“Whether it’s degrading the air defences along the flight corridor, or whether it’s hampering the enemy’s communications ability on the ground in order to slow their reaction times,” Fick said. “Sometimes there’s cyber deception stuff that happens to make the defenders think that the raid force is going to a different location.”
Like others TI has spoken to, Fick could not offer specific operations in which hackers were used, though his time at the Center for a New American Security and current business dealings with NSA and military cyber commands likely give him great insight.
At least one known cyber operation against ISIS happened in February, when US hackers “identified and jammed Islamic State online-communication networks” during a battle between ISIS and Kurdish forces.
A spokesperson for Army Cyber Command declined to comment.
Fick’s comments follow with previous reporting on the military’s movement into offensive cyber warfare.
“I think [the military has] shifted to offence publicly,” Cris Thomas, strategist for Tenable Network Security and former member of the legendary hacker group L0pht, told TI. “I think the offence has always been there. I just think it’s been a rather taboo type subject.”
The Army specifically has been pushing to integrate cyber operators directly into ground units, and its cyber warfare manual gives a template for commanders to use when thinking about how to use hackers on the battlefield to their advantage.
“They face the most sophisticated adversaries at scale, even more so than places like financial services,” Fick said, of the military and intelligence services.
If you’re with a military cyber command and want to talk, reach out to me on OTR chat at [email protected]; Fingerprint: E160BD8F 3B2AA86E 3880F8A0 D030113B C7409830
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