Term Paper: Cyber Terrorism

Pages: 14 (3698 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Terrorism  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] In our modern life networking and advanced communication techniques have attained immense significance. " [The] fully interlinked networks depend on a capacity for constant, dense information and communications flow. Modern innovations such as cellular telephones fax machines, electronic mail, World Wide Web sites, and computer conferencing facilities support this requirement. In a wired society, a large percentage of governmental and private work takes place online, with single nodes having virtual instantaneous access to many others. A terrorist could theoretically, without leaving the home base, launch an electronic attack against infrastructure targets from thousands of miles away, plunging a country into chaos. Acting in this way, a perpetrator could crash entire networks upon which most modern information infrastructure depends; alter, steal, or destroy vital national security, financial, and record-keeping systems; or sabotage specific corporate, transportation, medical, and educational networks." (Chalk, 2000)

We must not forget that cyber crime, a less lethal but equally damaging, form of cyber terrorism is increasing at lightening speed and the economic damage it has caused so far provides an insight into the potential impact of cyber terrorism on the entire nation. Carter (1996) explains why computer crime should be taken seriously: "...computer crime poses a real threat. Those who believe otherwise simply have not been awakened by the massive losses and setbacks experienced by companies worldwide. Money and intellectual property have been stolen, corporate operations impeded, and jobs lost as a result of computer crime... The economic impact of computer crime is staggering. British Banking Association representatives estimate the global loss to computer fraud alone as approximately $8 billion each year."

Cyber terrorism poses a serious threat as some attacks on government websites in other countries have shown the extent of damage these terrorist attacks can cause. We need to understand that while most people previously thought of cyber terrorism as science fiction, it has now turned very much into reality whereby terrorist are seriously looking for weaknesses in cyber security and exploiting it to their fullest advantage. There are some specific ways in which cyber attacks can seriously wreak havoc. The terrorist can either enter a sensitive site or collect information that is meant for intelligence officers or other higher officials of the government. This information can then be sold to other countries or used for personal and group gains. Apart from accessing a site, the cyber terrorist can create immense panic and completely halt flow of information by flooding the website routers. He can also spread network viruses that corrupt information and make information unusable and inaccessible.

Giles Trendle (2003) writes:

Like a classic guerrilla struggle, digital warfare is a conflict of the weak against the strong, in which the weaker force probes for vulnerable points in its enemy's defences. The Achilles Heel of modern technology appears to be that no computer system can be considered totally invulnerable to being 'cracked'. Infrastructures such as power, communications, transportation and financial services rely heavily on computers and automated control systems. This puts them at risk from cyber attacks. A hacker interviewed prior to the war on Iraq warned that western governments and businesses should brace themselves for 'suicide cyber attacks' in the event of war. He defined a 'suicide cyber attack' as one in which the hacker sets out to cause maximum damage unhindered by any regard for being detected and caught. The hacker who issued this stark warning belongs to a group calling itself the Iron Guards, which attacked Israeli government and business sites in the first recorded Arab-Israeli cyber war two years ago."

This type of terrorism has also been further strengthened by the presence of some effective encryption tools that often aid terrorists in launching their electronic attacks. These encryption tools are very powerful and completely hide the identity of the user which makes it all the more difficult to trace the criminal. All a terrorist needs is access to a telecommunications infrastructure and then the entire world id his oyster provided he possessed advanced technological knowledge. There are some hackers who never gained any education in this field and are yet capable of ripping an entire network apart. Extremist elements can launch an electronic attack against the United States even if they are geographically based in Rwanda. This factor only adds to the gravity of the issue and the impact of a possible cyber war.

While we have not yet heard of any major attacks against any government site, there have been a number of serious cyber terrorism cases in other parts of the world which only goes to show that it is just a matter of time before we become a victim of cyber war. The fear of Cyber terrorism is not unfounded; it has been reinforced by the repeated attacks against many websites that either led to the closure of those sites or caused immense economic damage to the companies that owned the site. What adds to the power of cyber attack is the fact that all it requires is access code to sensitive sites or a series of information requests sent to a router to bring down the entire system and destroy important information. While no major cases of cyber terrorism against the nation has been reported from U.S. facilities, there have been some attacks against the Defense Department site, which is now being studied and examined by the FBI. The Bureau is currently handling 800 cases of cyber crimes that range from defacing of websites to theft of military information.

Deutch (1997) adds:

Electronic attacks against foreign governments have further underscored the perceived threat to America. One of the most serious instances occurred in 1997 when a "cyber suicide attack" organized by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka successfully crashed the internal email systems of Colombo's diplomatic missions in Ottawa, Washington, and Seoul. The operation -- carried out by the Internet Black Tigers -- was the first known assault by a terrorist organization on a target country's computer systems. Although the cyber-strike amounted to little more than a bid to swamp Sri Lanka's consulates with electronic mail, it did, in the words of a senior U.S. official, "cause us to sit up and take notice. It was the first terrorist attack of its kind and represented a portent of things to come."

It is not wise anymore to disregard the threat that cyber terrorism poses and the government needs to be more aware of the potential of cyber war. United States government can assess the possible threat of cyber terrorism by looking at response of cyber terrorists to Iraq war. Within the first few days of the conflict, some 20,000 websites had been hacked and defaced. Trendle (2003) writes: "Five UK government sites were compromised by a hacking group protesting the war with Iraq, according to Internet security company mi2g. Messages posted on the site included propaganda against U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Israeli premier Ariel Sharon. According to mi2g, several high profile corporate targets, including Coca-Cola and Fuji Film web sites, were hit by denial-of-service attacks, in which a site is made inaccessible...The website of Arab satellite TV station Al Jazeera, criticized by the U.S. For re-broadcasting Iraqi TV's footage of American PoWs, came under intermittent denial-of-service attacks amid the war. The English language Al Jazeera web site, which posted disturbing images of civilian victims, was also downed by a denial-of-service attack. A group calling itself the Patriot Freedom Cyber Force Militia claimed responsibility for these attacks."


It is now important to discuss how the government has responded the threat of cyber terrorism. We need to understand that cyber terrorism must be caught when it is still in its less threatening stage because from its forerunner, cyber crimes, we know that havoc it can cause. While cyber terrorism may be non-military in nature, it can cause as much damage as the other a military war. "In contrast to economic wars that target the production and distribution of goods, and political wars that aim at the leadership and institutions of a government, netwars would be distinguished by their targeting of information and communications. Like other forms on this spectrum, netwars would be largely nonmilitary, but they could have dimensions that overlap into military war." (Alvin: 28) The U.S. authorities have however not been sitting quiet and some actions have been taken to control the growth of cyber terrorism and to protect the country and its citizens from potential danger. Now the U.S. authorities are treating cyber terrorism as imminent possibility. They have fully recognized the technological proficiency of militant groups including Al-Qaeda. The FBI and CIA admitted last year that they never realized that these groups could be exploring the world of Internet for launching attacks against their enemies. This shows that our enemies are smarter and more IT proficient than we had given them credit for. This certainly called for some concrete measures and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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