UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said Thursday that Britain’s military is launching cyberattacks against the Islamic State group in support of the offensive on the Iraqi city of Mosul, a first-of-its kind acknowledgement that British forces are launching attacks across the internet.
“I can confirm we are using offensive cyber for the first time in this campaign,” Fallon said in response to a question from a journalist at a conference on “The Transformation of 21st Century Warfare” in central London.
He didn’t go into further detail, but the very admission was seen as noteworthy in the context of the secrecy which usually surrounds military hacking.
“It’s definitely newsworthy,” said Andreas Haggman, a doctoral student in cybersecurity at the University of Royal of Holloway in southern England who was in the audience.
Haggman explained in an email that “we obviously know quite a bit from (intelligence leaker Edward) Snowden and can assume other stuff is going on in the dark recesses of cyberspace, but public acknowledgment feels like a big step.”
Fallon’s public admission, which came several months after a senior US military official boasted of dropping “cyberbombs” on the Islamic State group, is a sign that some Western military leaders are tentatively opening up about the use of hacking on the battlefield.
In 2012, a US general raised eyebrows by acknowledging the use of cyberattacks against insurgents in Afghanistan. Now, examples of military hacking are regularly percolating into the public domain.
Last month, for example, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the German army hacked into an Afghan telecommunications firm as part of an operation to help free a kidnapped aid worker.