🔑 Key Takeaways
- The takeover of Mosul by ISIS increased their popularity, leading to a rise in global attacks. The US military responded with Operation Inherent Resolve, but ISIS had already recruited tens of thousands of members. This serves as a reminder of how quickly extremist groups can gain power and the devastating impact of terrorism on innocent lives.
- The US Cyber Command, a secret hacking organization within the US government, conducts offensive cyber-space operations and is constantly seeking new members to help battle terrorists.
- The NSA and Cyber Command formed a team to study ISIS media and collect data, preparing well in advance of the group's invasion of Mosul. The team consisted of military and civilian personnel with specialized IT skills.
- The NSA and Cyber Command dedicated extensive resources to gather data, infect systems, and develop tactical attacks against ISIS media. Despite their readiness to take out more of ISIS media, higher-ups lacked the appetite for a big cyber-operation after the Paris attacks.
- Glowing Symphony is a prime example of the military's ability to utilize offensive cyber-operations as a powerful weapon to destroy and attack key nodes of terrorist organizations like ISIS.
- Highly skilled hackers and professionals with intricate knowledge of computer networks and terrorist organizations are crucial in countering terrorism through cyber-ops like Operation Glowing Symphony.
- The fight against ISIS required coordination with hackers and other skilled professionals, but getting approval and navigating bureaucracy were major challenges. Despite these obstacles, the hackers' successful mission showed the importance of their expertise in modern warfare.
- Securing your email account is essential because over 90% of cyberattacks begin with e-mail access. Once hackers have access, they can pivot to other associated accounts and wreak havoc.
- Secure your email account with a long, complex password and enable two-factor authentication to prevent hackers from accessing your email and gaining access to other services you use. Conduct thorough preparation like Operation Glowing Symphony's team for optimal security.
- The success of the cyber-strike against ISIS media network showcased the power of profiling and meticulous planning in executing a plan. It also highlighted the capabilities of the NSA and US Cyber Command in infiltrating and understanding the enemy to the extent of accessing their secret questions for any account.
- Operation Glowing Symphony successfully disrupted ISIS's key nodes and targets, resulting in a reduction of their propaganda and communication channels, as well as significant losses in financial accounts and crypto-currencies.
- Missed deadlines can have significant consequences on a brand and make it less appealing to audiences. With the rise of information warfare, the military is building out cyber branches to defend and execute offensive missions.
- The NSA and Cyber Command work to protect and defend the US against cyber threats, even if it means crossing legal boundaries. Their mission is vital, but with technology advancing, potential risks remain.
📝 Podcast Summary
The Rise and Fall of ISIS Following the Takeover of Mosul
The takeover of Mosul by ISIS and the declaration of a caliphate increased their popularity and led to a rise in attacks in several cities worldwide including Paris, Brussels, and Ottawa. The US military initiated Operation Inherent Resolve to stop ISIS, using airstrikes, tomahawk missiles, and other measures. However, tens of thousands of people had joined ISIS and it wasn't easy to stop them. The takeover of Mosul is what put ISIS on the map and made them a common household name in the US. It is a reminder that extremist groups can take over cities in just a few days, and highlights the devastating impact of violence and terrorism on innocent lives.
Inside the US Cyber Command's Offensive Cyber-space Operations
The US Cyber Command is a secret hacking organization within the US government that conducts full spectrum cyber-space operations, including conducting offensive cyber-space operations. US Cyber Command needed more help to battle terrorists, and as a result, phone calls were made that led to an extremely rare interview with a person inside the US Cyber Command, Command the Commander, who was formerly a Force RECON Marine. Marines are known to be competitive, gung-ho, and battle-hungry, and this mindset was exemplified in the Marine Force's Cyber Command. MARFORCYBER conducts offensive cyber-space operations, something that the US government has historically not admitted to doing. The Commander is a beast, having spent his first five military years as a Force RECON Marine before joining the cyber division and subsequently becoming a mission commander.
Targeting ISIS Media - How a Special Team Analyzed and Built a Network for Collecting Information
The NSA and US Cyber Command created a team to focus solely on ISIS media, which was responsible for producing their magazines, videos, attack claims, social media accounts, and websites. The team was tasked with mapping out the network and understanding everything that made ISIS media tick, from people and places to things. They spent a year and a half analyzing, developing, and building out the network to collect as much data as possible from the group. This was done before ISIS invaded Mosul and declared a caliphate, and the team was made up of Marines, civilians, and skilled IT personnel.
NSA and Cyber Command's Two-Year Effort Against ISIS Media Network
The NSA and Cyber Command dedicated a whole team for two years to investigate ISIS media network, gathering as much data as possible and infecting the systems to maintain their foothold in there. They hacked into the phone of one of the ISIS media people and stole the private decryption keys for that phone, enabling them to decrypt private chat messages. They also had extensive knowledge of ISIS media and developed tactical cyber-attacks to disrupt and take down their networks. After the Paris attacks in November 2015, Secretary Carter requested options for a big cyber-operation to stop and diminish the impact of ISIS media. The Commander had the skills and expertise to take out more of ISIS media, and they were ready at a tactical level, but there wasn't that appetite at higher levels.
Joint Task Force ARES: A New Approach to Fighting ISIS
The discovery of key nodes in ISIS media led to the formation of a new task force, Joint Task Force ARES, which focused specifically on offensive cyber-operations against ISIS. This task force was granted permission to disrupt, degrade, and destroy the target using cyber-attacks, representing a significant shift in operations. The team came up with the name 'Glowing Symphony' for their cyber-operation, which aimed to take down all of the ISIS servers, domains, and emails at the same time. This mission was the result of a major realization that military and NSA operations could go beyond simply collecting data and listening/watching to the enemy, but also using cyber-attacks as weapons to destroy and attack key nodes.
Operation Glowing Symphony: A Cyber-Op Against Terrorism
Operation Glowing Symphony was a cyber-op executed by cyber-com term Mission Commanders and their highly skilled hackers, who formed teams of operators, signals analysts, intel analysts and team leaders. The Mission Commanders had the responsibility of ensuring that the teams operate legally to accomplish the cyber operation. These teams could navigate enemy territory and big target networks to hit objectives, delete data or move around the network to accomplish their goals. This mission demonstrates the US government's dedication to countering terrorism by striking critical elements like the media infrastructure of terrorist groups. This operation also highlights the need for highly skilled hackers and other professionals with intricate knowledge of computer networks and terrorist organizations.
Overcoming Obstacles: The US Military-Trained Hackers' Struggle Against ISIS.
The US military-trained hackers faced tension and hurdles due to deconfliction with the inner agencies, high-up approvals, and government bureaucracy before going ahead with the mission. Anonymous also joined the fight against ISIS, reporting thousands of Twitter and Facebook accounts, taking down ISIS websites, and frustrating the intelligence community's data collection. However, such activism could lead to the loss of data sources and the need for coordination with hackers. The operation required access to aerial photos, code-breakers, developers, linguists, and interpreters. Every member of the team had to pass the mission briefs and gain confidence in the plan, given the publicity within the community. Despite the risks, the hackers succeeded in their mission.
Operation Glowing Symphony: Taking Down the ISIS Media Empire
The US Cyber Command used Operation Glowing Symphony to decimate ISIS media by taking down as much as possible in the shortest amount of time possible and then picking apart the remaining remnants. The team spent months gaining access to the network, and it all started with e-mail access. Over 90% of cyber-attacks start with e-mail access, which provides access to the username, e-mail address, and password. Once hackers gain access to an e-mail account, they can pivot to other accounts associated with that e-mail for password reset. Thus, it's essential to secure e-mail accounts to prevent hackers from gaining unauthorized access to other accounts associated with it.
Protecting Email Access to Secure All Accounts.
Protecting your email access is crucial as it can serve as the core key to pivot through multiple accounts. If hackers can access your email, they can reset passwords and gain access to other services you use. To secure your email account, you should create a long and complex password and enable two-factor authentication. If anyone gains access to your email, they can access almost everything. Operation Glowing Symphony relied on multiple access vectors to gain access to their targets. They spent time pairing the infrastructure with the exploits they needed and planned out the operation to a T. The team had extensive rehearsals and received approval from technical experts before executing the operation. OGS was their primary focus, and they conducted preparation even on nights and weekends.
Cyber Strike Against ISIS Media Network
During the cyber-strike, the task unit picked a ten-minute window to launch their plan. Teams worked together in the Operations Room, executing according to plan, and destroying key infrastructure in ISIS media network. They had a large printout of every target attached to the wall and briefed the higher authority as they progressed. However, one team hit a roadblock during their mission and had trouble authenticating with a security question. Through meticulous profiling of the enemy, an analyst provided the right answer and the task unit continued executing the plan. This emphasizes the power of NSA and US Cyber Command to understand and infiltrate someone's life to the extent that they know their secret questions for any account they've ever set up.
Operation Glowing Symphony's Impact on Taking Down ISIS
Operation Glowing Symphony was an effective mission to take down ISIS's key nodes and targets. The task force successfully accomplished their objectives within ten minutes of the mission, resulting in several losses for ISIS, including financial accounts and crypto-currencies. The ISIS media team suffered the most significant loss, as all their servers and accounts went offline, forcing them to rebuild the entire network from scratch. Though their IT team managed to bring back their sites, files and accounts with a lot of trouble, the production cycle was longer than before. One significant impact of Operation Glowing Symphony was a drastic reduction in ISIS's tweets on Twitter, which indicates its effectiveness in disrupting their propaganda and communication channels.
The Consequences of Missing Deadlines and the Rise of Information Warfare
Missing deadlines can erode the quality of a brand and make it less appealing to audiences. This was evident in the case of ISIS media outlets, where repeated cyber-attacks over seven months not only took down 90% of their websites but also led to their media production slowing down and ultimately being discredited. The US government has never taken credit for cyber-attacks like this, but it is important for the military to have readiness in this domain since information warfare is now a fifth domain of warfare. The military is building out cyber branches with cyber-specialities for both enlisted and officer positions to defend and execute offensive missions.
The US's Fight Against Cyber Threats
The documentary 'Darknet Diaries' reveals that the US is in the fight against cyber threats. The NSA and Cyber Command are taking up the responsibility to protect the US from threats and are conducting destructive cyber-attacks like JTF-ARES that target the enemies. Although they have sometimes crossed the legal boundary of surveillance, their goal and mission are clear. With the advancement of technology, it is alarming to think about what other doors have got opened because of these attacks. The US has never admitted to conducting destructive cyber-attacks like Stuxnet. However, with the approval of telling the story about US Cyber Command's involvement in hacking ISIS without revealing any confidential information, it is fascinating to learn about the US security and protection measures.