US cyber weapons disappoint against ISIS

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The realization that cyber weapons will buy time, but will not create a permanent, effective solution is becoming more apparent as the cyberattacks against the Islamic State repeatedly disappoint, according to the New York Times.

It has been over a year since the Cyber Command opened combat against the Islamic State with a clear mission: disturb any ability the Islamic State possesses to attract recruits, spread their message, circulate orders, and pay fighters. Cyber techniques that were originally designed for fixed targets are being refashioned for use against terrorist groups like ISIS who know how to turn the web into a weapon. These techniques, however, are not proving to be very effective. Recruitment and communications will reappear just as fast as they are taken down.

“In general, there was some sense of disappointment in the overall ability for cyber operations to land a major blow against ISIS,” or the Islamic State, Joshua Geltzer, senior director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council until March, told the New York Times. “This is just much harder in practice than people think. It’s almost never as cool as getting into a system and thinking you’ll see things disappear for good.”

Operation Glowing Symphony, the most sophisticated offensive cyberoperation conducted by the U.S. against the Islamic State, began in November, seeking to sabotage online videos and propaganda produced by the Islamic State. The operation was thought to be successful after the battlefield videos disappeared, but the success was only temporary. The mobility and common equipment that the Islamic State has access to allows the group to easily reconstitute communications and reinstate propaganda materials.

“The global reach of ISIS right now is largely intact,” Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said in a speech in Washington last month. “The group also continues to publish thousands of pieces of official propaganda and to use online apps to organize its supporters and inspire attacks.”

With the internet as their weapon, and easily accessible, mobile technology to distribute their message, the question remains: How do we use cyber technology to effectively fight against the Islamic State?