The Pentagon is considering more aggressive cyberattacks on the Islamic State’s computers in an effort to decrease its propaganda on social media and prevent potential terror attacks, according to a published report.
The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday, citing unnamed U.S. officials who were not authorized to speak on the matter, that military hackers at Cyber Command in Fort Meade, Md. have created malware that could be used to curb the terror group’s capabilities on the Internet.
However, the military’s fight against the extremists’ online communications faces drawback from the FBI and other intelligence officials who say that constricting the Internet in Syria and Iraq may shut the window into the militants’ whereabouts and intentions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The White House has directed top Pentagon officials to prepare for an increase in cyberwarfare after the investigation into the San Bernardino, Calif. terror attack showed that Sayed Farook and Tashfeen Malik had been inspired from extremist propaganda online to carry out the attack that killed 14.
An official told the Times that the U.S. wants to use cyberattacks as another option to “pressure” ISIS.
Defense Chief Ash Carter is expected to meet with officials at Cyber Command this week to go over possible digital options to take down the Islamic State’s internet capabilities.
Encryption has been a huge roadblock into what the U.S. can access when trying to decode messages from potential terror suspects. The Obama administration said last week that the competing goals of protecting Americans’ emails and other private messages and helping the U.S. intelligence community decipher them to foil terror plots are on a “collision” course.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she personally went to Silicon Valley to meet with the top lawyers in most of the companies but has yet to receive any help.
“I think that Silicon Valley has to take a look at their products,” she told MSNBC last month. “If you create a product that allows evil monsters to communicate in this way, … that is a big problem.”
Feinstein, along with FBI Director James Comey, have asked intelligence officials to have so-called “back door” access to encrypted messages, which now can be transmitted through apps and electronic gaming devices.
“Even with a court order you can’t get to what they’re saying,” Feinstein also has said.
Cyber Command, according to the Times, has targeted some networks and social media accounts since President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes against ISIS last year.
Despite the cyberattacks, ISIS extremists have found workarounds to communicating on social media. The terror group encourages its militants to use encrypted social apps – such as Telegram – instead of Twitter or Facebook because the messages are harder to monitor.
The Counter Extremist Project, a New York-based nonprofit that tracks messages sent on the Internet from alleged extremists, says militants send about 90,000 Twitter messages a day to promote their ideology and to recruit new members.
Comey said last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee at least one of the two shooters at the anti-Prophet Muhammad event in Texas in May had exchanged 109 encrypted electronic messages with "an overseas terrorist.”
“This is a big problem,” he said.