By David E. Sanger
The United States has opened a new line of combat against the Islamic State, directing the military’s six-year-old Cyber Command for the first time to mount computer-network attacks that are now being used alongside more traditional weapons.
The effort reflects President Obama’s desire to bring many of the secret American cyberweapons that have been aimed elsewhere, notably at Iran, into the fight against the Islamic State — which has proved effective in using modern communications and encryption to recruit and carry out operations.
The National Security Agency, which specializes in electronic surveillance, has for years listened intensely to the militants of the Islamic State, and those reports are often part of the president’s daily intelligence briefing. But the N.S.A.’s military counterpart, Cyber Command, was focused largely on Russia, China, Iran and North Korea — where cyberattacks on the United States most frequently originate — and had run virtually no operations against what has become the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world.
A review of what should be done to confront the Islamic State is on Mr. Obama’s agenda on Monday, when he is scheduled to attend a conference in Hanover, Germany, with the leaders of Britain, France, Italy and Germany. Of these efforts, the cybercampaign is the newest. It is also the one discussed in least detail by officials of many countries, and its successes or failures are the most difficult to assess from the outside.
The goal of the new campaign is to disrupt the ability of the Islamic State to spread its message, attract new adherents, circulate orders from commanders and carry out day-to-day functions, like paying its fighters. A benefit of the administration’s exceedingly rare public discussion of the campaign, officials said, is to rattle the Islamic State’s commanders, who have begun to realize that sophisticated hacking efforts are manipulating their data. Potential recruits may also be deterred if they come to worry about the security of their communications with the militant group.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is among those who have publicly discussed the new mission, but only in broad terms, and this month the deputy secretary of defense, Robert O. Work, was more colorful in describing the effort.
“We are dropping cyberbombs,” Mr. Work said. “We have never done that before.”
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