Israeli government hackers broke into the computer networks of ISIS bomb makers months ago and uncovered the terror group’s plans to build laptop bombs that could get through airport X-ray machines, according to a new report in The New York Times.
The Times report, authored by David Sanger and Eric Schmitt and sourced to two American officials, said that the intelligence gleaned from the electronic heist was “so exquisite” that it helped US spies get an understanding of how such devices would be detonated.
The Department of Homeland Security in March implemented a ban on electronic devices larger than a cell phone from being carried onto aircraft originating from 10 countries in Africa and the Middle East. A DHS fact sheet said terrorists were trying to smuggle explosives in “various consumer items.”
According to the Times report, ISIS was fashioning explosives that would look just like a battery in a laptop computer.
Though the revelation uncovered by Israeli hackers is one success in the cyber war against ISIS, the Times report notes that the US and others have had a more difficult time going after the terror group online. Unlike other cyber operations against Iran and North Korea, which caused setbacks to both countries’ nuclear programs, ISIS has limited technical infrastructure, and relies on technology less for weapons in favor of recruiting and propaganda efforts.
Still, the US has in recent years significantly upped its cyber capabilities and placed hackers close by grunts, helping them confuse and deceive the enemy on the battlefield.
“Even if you think about the way that IEDs are triggered,” said Charlie Stadtlander, chief spokesperson for US Army Cyber Command, using the acronym for improvised explosive devices, in a 2016 interview with Business Insider. “Or an adversary’s [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance], a lot of these are done through electronics and with internet connections.”
“Denying the ability to coordinate, communicate, and assess,” Stadtlander added. “That’s an advantage that we might be able to leverage.”