London, Apr 12 (PTI) Britain’s leading spy chief today revealed that the UK’s first major cyberattack was against the dreaded Islamic State which hindered the terrorist group’s ability to coordinate attacks and suppressed their propaganda.

Jeremy Fleming, director-general of the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), told a conference in Manchester that the surveillance agency had conducted a “major offensive cyber-campaign” last year against the ISIS.

“In 2017, there were times when (ISIS) found it almost impossible to spread their hate online, to use their normal channels to spread their rhetoric, or trust their publications,” Fleming said during the CyberUK event organised by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre.

“This is the first time the UK has systematically and persistently degraded an adversary’s online efforts as part of a wider military campaign. Did it work? I think it did This campaign shows how targeted and effective offensive cyber can be,” he said.

In his first public speech since taking charge of GCHQ in March 2017, the former MI5 agent also attacked Russia over “unacceptable cyber-behaviour” and warned that the deadly nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last month demonstrates recklessness on the part of the Russian state.

“It demonstrates how reckless Russia is prepared to be, how little the Kremlin cares of the rules-based order, how comfortable they are at putting ordinary lives at risk They’re blurring the boundaries between criminal and state activity,” he said.

“The robust response from the UK and from the international community shows the Kremlin that illegal acts have consequences. And it looks like our expertise on Russia will be in increasing demand,” he added.

Under his leadership, GCHQ, often referred to as the UK’s listening post, has also announced plans to open a new facility in Manchester next year as part of wider measures to expand its network of sites to combat threats that the country faces in a digital age.

“It will create hundreds of high-calibre jobs for people who will have a vital role in keeping this country safe. Our new facility will open up a huge new pool of highly talented, tech-savvy recruits vital to our future success,” he said.

In addition to its headquarters in Cheltenham, south-west England, GCHQ currently has offices at Bude in Cornwall and Scarborough in north Yorkshire. Last year, the National Cyber Security Centre, which is part of GCHQ, opened its headquarters in London.

GCHQ, with a workforce of more than 6,000, works alongside MI5 and MI6 intelligence services in the UK.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.