FORT MEADE, Md. — The Defense Department has called on military hackers at Fort Meade to disrupt the operations of the self-declared Islamic State, a move that adds cyberweapons to the bombs and missiles the United States has been using to batter the terror group.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter described the outlines of the hacking campaign Monday.

“This is something that is new in this war,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “It’s an important new capability and it’s an important use of our Cyber Command and the reason Cyber Command was established in the first place.”


Carter’s comments were a striking shift in the way the government talks about its ability to launch cyberattacks against its enemies. And for the six-year-old Cyber Command at Fort Meade, the campaign marks a kind of coming of age: Before now, the government had not publicly acknowledged carrying out such offensive cyberoperations and kept many of the command’s abilities secret.

Carter said the effort is aimed at knocking out the Islamic State’s communications infrastructure, to make it more difficult for its fighters to coordinate their efforts and potentially to drive them to use systems that are easier for America to detect and monitor.

One technique involves overloading computer networks so they no longer function – a common type of attack known as denial of service.

Elements of the campaign remain under wraps. Asked whether the Defense Department would send out daily lists of cyberattacks against the Islamic State, Carter said it was unlikely.


Carter said the cyberoffensive was an important part of the broader campaign against the Islamic State, in which the United States is applying its air power and military know-how to help the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces that are doing the bulk of the fighting on the ground.

As the focus shifts to capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul, Carter said, cyberattacks will be an important part of the strategy.

“We’re accelerating this just as we’re accelerating everything else,” he said.

Trey Herr, a cyberweapons researcher at George Washington University, said it’s unlikely the Defense Department needs to use its most sophisticated cybercapabilities against the Islamic State, or ISIS. Because the group is widely hated, he said, it’s a more appealing target for testing out a new kind of warfare.