The Obama administration has launched the first cyberwar against the Islamic State, a war that, coupled with real, not virtual, fighting, is producing one of the most encouraging on-the-ground success.

The Obama administration has launched the first cyberwar against the Islamic State, a war that, coupled with real, not virtual, fighting, is producing one of the most encouraging on-the-ground successes in the conflict — sharply cutting into the number of foreign fighters sneaking into Syria to join the group’s terrorist army and its so-called Islamic caliphate.

The Pentagon says an Islamic State recruitment drive that attracted 2,000 a month last year to join the fight in Syria and Iraq has slowed to fewer than 500. The squeeze means the army of about 35,000 has shrunk to some 20,000, leaving fewer fighters to conduct two big battles ahead: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa, the caliphate’s “capital,” in Syria.

Officials say the human pipeline is tightening partly because of an aggressive online countermessaging campaign directed by the State Department, a battle of ideas that tells Muslims that Raqqa is a dead end, literally.

“There is a global coalition that’s conducting campaigns of messaging to convince people not to get up and leave their countries and travel to Iraq and Syria to try to join the caliphate,” said Army Col. Christopher Garver, a former top military spokesman in Baghdad. “We want to convince people that the caliphate is not a real thing. We’re in the process of breaking it up. It’s not worth leaving your home and coming to Iraq and Syria to join the caliphate.”

Alberto Fernandez, who once led the State Department’s strategic communications, is skeptical that the countermessaging has had much of an effect. The single biggest factor, he said, is simply that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is steadily losing territory to U.S.-backed Iraqi troops and Syrian rebels.

Source: Obama launches first cyberwar against ISIS, cuts recruiting by 75 percent – Washington Times


Some say the job of running both organizations is too big for one leader.

The Pentagon and intelligence community are expected to recommend soon to President Obama that he break up the joint leadership of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command to create two distinct forces­ for electronic espionage and cyberwarfare.

The potential move is driven by a sense that the two missions are fundamentally different, that the nation’s cyberspies and military hackers should not be competing to use the same networks, and that the job of leading both organizations is too big for one person.

Obama was on the verge of ending the “dual-hat” leadership in late 2013 but was persuaded to hold off when senior officials, including then-NSA Director Keith B. Alexander, argued against it on the grounds that the two organizations needed one leader to ensure that the NSA did not withhold resources from Cyber­Com.

Source: Obama to be urged to split cyberwar command from NSA – The Washington Post


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization could begin using its cyber capabilities to try and deter attacks against allies.

There is no equivalent yet for mutually assured destruction in cyberspace. But Western strategists are wondering if mutually assured disruption in cyber space might be enough to deter a real-world attack.

Alexander Vershbow, the deputy secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said Monday that cyber capabilities are forcing allies to change their approaches to defense.

“It requires us to think of warfare in new ways,” he said. “But NATO has a responsibility to think defensively, we are a defensive alliance.”

Governments, including the U.S. and Russia, and non-state actors have developed malware and forms of electronic warfare to disable opponents’ communications networks, air-defense systems and other critical infrastructure.

A range of cyber capabilities could help deter an attack, Mr. Vershbow said in an appearance at the Digital Life Design Europe conference in Brussels.

Mr. Vershbow raised the prospect of allies developing cyber programs to deactivate Russia’s ability to command and control its forces, similar to what he said Russians have demonstrated in eastern Ukraine.

“You may be able to deter your adversary just by that adversary having the knowledge that you have the means to disrupt command and control of an offensive attack,” Mr. Vershbow said. “If we also make clear even if the Russians mounted a large scale conventional attack we could use cyber to dismantle the command and control.”

In the U.S. military officials have long debated how much to discuss cyber capabilities secret. Keeping various military capabilities secret could help prevent adversaries from developing defenses. But outlining a military’s broad ability in cyber space can have a deterrent effect.

This year, NATO officially recognized cyberspace as a so-called domain of warfare, akin to land, sea or air, and the alliance has said since 2014 that a cyber attack could constitute a form of armed attack, provoking an allied response.

NATO’s cyber capabilities are nascent and the alliance has no plans to itself develop offensive cyber weapons. Still, Mr. Vershbow noted that in certain circumstances, NATO commanders could call on individual allies to utilize their offensive cyber capabilities.

Wolfgang Ischinger, the German diplomat who moderated the DLD panel, noted that a set of rules for the use of weapons in space had been developed beginning in the 1960s that prevented war from breaking out in that domain.

In an interview after, Mr. Ischinger, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, noted that reaching consensus on the military use of space was easier because, unlike the cyber domain, only a few countries could launch satellites and spacecraft.

“In space you are dealing with just a few actors..all of whom could fit in a small room. That of course makes result-oriented discussions easy,” he said.

An agreement on the use of cyber weapons that is enforceable and verifiable would be far more difficult. But he said work must continue to establish norms of behavior and rules of responsible conduct.

“In these earlier  cases, where new technology opened up new battlefields, in the past we have been able to develop new rules,” he said. “That is why the quest for rules has to go on.”

Source: Next Up for NATO: Mutually Assured (Cyber) Disruption – Real Time Brussels – WSJ


Despite evidence of Russian hacking into the U.S. election system, President Obama said Monday that he doesn’t want to escalate into a “wild, wild West” cyberwar with Moscow.

Emerging from a 90-minute meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in China, Mr. Obama acknowledged that the Russians have been attacking U.S. institutions on the internet.

“We’ve had problems with cyberintrusions from Russia in the past, from other countries in the past,” Mr. Obama said.

 But he suggested that he didn’t want to retaliate.

“Our goal is not to suddenly in the cyber arena duplicate a cycle of escalation that we saw when it comes to other arms races in the past, but rather to start instituting some norms so that everybody’s acting responsibly,” Mr. Obama said. “What we cannot do is have a situation in which suddenly this becomes the wild, wild West, where countries that have significant cybercapacity start engaging in unhealthy competition or conflict through these means.”

U.S. officials said last week that election systems in Illinois and Arizona had been hacked and that Russia was most likely responsible. Russian hackers also have been blamed for intrusions into records of the Democratic National Committee and the House Democrats’ campaign organization.

Source: Obama says he doesn’t want ‘wild West’ cyberwar with Russia – Washington Times


Clinton said the US should ‘lead the world in setting the rules in cyberspace’.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party presidential nominee and former US secretary of state, has said that if she becomes president cyberattacks against US interests will be treated “like any other attack” – and that includes military action.

The candidate, who has been investigated by the FBI over use of a private email server to store classified material, was speaking on the campaign trial at the American Legion National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio on 31 August.

“As President, I will make it clear that the United States will treat cyberattacks just like any other attack. We will be ready with serious political, economic, and military responses,” she told the attendees, largely made up of veterans and their supporters.

“We are going to invest in protecting our governmental networks and our national infrastructure,” she continued. “I want us to lead the world in setting the rules in cyberspace. If America doesn’t, others will.”

The speech made a number of references to the rise in cybercrime – and the various rival nation states that Clinton asserted are currently attacking the US. Most recently, Kremlin-linked hackers were suspected of hacking into the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“We need to respond to evolving threats from states like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea,” Clinton said in the speech. “We need a military that is ready and agile so it can meet the full range of threats and operate on short notice across every domain – not just land, sea, air and space but also cyberspace.

Source: Hillary Clinton: US should use ‘military response’ to combat Russia and China cyberattacks