LONDON, U.K. - Director of the British intelligence agency GCHQ has revealed that the U.K. conducted a "major offensive cyber-campaign" against the Islamic State militant group.
Former MI5 agent Jeremy Fleming said that the operation hindered the terrorist group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.
In his first public speech as GCHQ director, Fleming detailed the operation, which was the first time the U.K. systematically degraded an adversary's online efforts in a military campaign.
Addressing the Cyber U.K. conference in Manchester, he said, "The outcomes of these operations are wide-ranging.”
Further elaborating, "In 2017 there were times when Daesh [an alternative name for Islamic State] found it almost impossible to spread their hate online, to use their normal channels to spread their rhetoric, or trust their publications."
Fleming added that much of the cyber-operation was "too sensitive to talk about", but had disrupted the group's online activities and even destroyed equipment and networks.
He said, “This campaign shows how targeted and effective offensive cyber can be.”
However, he clarified that the fight against ISIS was not over, since the group continued to "seek to carry out or inspire further attacks in the U.K.” and find new "ungoverned spaces to base their operations.”
Meanwhile, in his speech, Fleming also criticised Russia over what he called "unacceptable cyber-behaviour" that was a "growing threat" to the U.K. and its allies.
Citing the NotPetya ransomware attack on Ukraine and over 100 other countries last year, Fleming said, "They're not playing to the same rules. They're blurring the boundaries between criminal and state activity."
At the time of the attack, the U.K. and U.S. later said the Russian military were behind the attack.
However, Russia had denied any role in the attack.
Meanwhile, commenting on the use of a nerve agent on the Skripals in Salisbury, Fleming said it was "stark and shocking,” and demonstrated "how reckless Russia is prepared to be.”
While Russia has denied any involvement, the U.K. has said Moscow was "culpable" for the attack.
Fleming said, "The robust response from the U.K. 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.”