Top general: ISIS 'extraordinarily savvy' in cyber

Top general: ISIS 'extraordinarily savvy' in cyber
© Getty Images

A top U.S. general says the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “extraordinarily savvy” in using cyber capabilities, but the military is making gains against the group in cyberspace.

Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, was pressed during a congressional hearing Wednesday to assess the effectiveness of cyber operations against ISIS and disclose any improvements that could be made.

“I do think we are beginning to have good effects with this, but there is certainly more than we need to do,” Votel told lawmakers. 

The terror group has leveraged social media and encrypted messaging apps to recruit followers and spread propaganda, which has drawn attention from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. 

Votel noted that the military started to conduct cyber operations from an area of little experience but said officials at Central Command, Cyber Command and Special Operations Command have made progress against ISIS in cyberspace.


“We have forged a very close relationship … that has allowed us to use this capability to have effects against this particular enemy and I do think we are starting from an area where we didn’t have much experience in this. We are actually creating effects on the ground,” Votel said in response to questioning from Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinHouse-passed defense spending bill includes provision establishing White House cyber czar Overnight Defense: Space Force chooses 2,410 airmen to join ranks | Fire aboard Navy ship extinguished | Congress backs push for national cyber czar Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal MORE (D-R.I.).

“I would share with you that this is an extraordinarily, extraordinarily savvy enemy, and so they have capabilities in this area and we will need to continue to evolve in this,” Votel added.

The general also noted that other countries participating in the anti-ISIS coalition have built “unique capabilities” in cyber that have been “well-integrated” into operations. Votel said he would like to further address the issue in a closed setting. 

Votel made the comments during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday morning on security challenges in the Middle East.

The military has focused on improving its cyber capabilities as other nations have made investments in cyber. Congress passed legislation last year that elevated Cyber Command to a unified combatant command, spinning it out as its own warfighting unit. 

The Pentagon is currently assessing ways to improve support of information management and cyber operations and looking at separating the dual-hat leadership of Cyber Command and the National Security Agency.