The threat of cyberterrorism is a growing concern among national security experts and defense officials. Communication and action over the Internet is cheap, effective and simple. Terrorists only need a computer and a broadband connection to access the Web. In this sense, cyberterrorism is alarming for the international community as an attractive option for terrorist organizations. The advantages to terrorists or rogue states are obvious: affordability, anonymity, massive damage potential, great media impact and psychological consequences. Free access to open-source technology, maps and transit schedules carries a logistical concern for the safety of critical infrastructure, and given the asymmetric nature of the use of violence by terrorist groups and organizations, the use of such unconventional means as the Internet is highly attractive.
Assessing the Threat of Cyberterrorism
The military use of cyberspace remains a unique ability of state governments because the barriers of a material nature are abundant and expensive to achieve, both at the economic level and in terms of training and specialization. The best example of this is the lack of casualties or damage achieved through this route. According to Tech Target, to date, the only consequences that have been observed are minor, such as distributed denial of service attacks, with automated tools that require no skill or computer knowledge to utilize.
Instead of sophisticated terrorist attacks, governments generally focus on the use of the Internet by terrorist groups and organizations as a tool for radicalization. Until recently, forums, email and technologies like Bluetooth have been used to spread jihadist propaganda. Now the prevalence of social networks as well as the increasing expansion and affordability of smartphones greatly facilitate communication with radicalized Internet users, especially toward an increasingly young user profile.
With the effective use of Twitter or Facebook, ISIS is recruiting foreign fighters and encouraging lone wolves to carry out jihad without forgetting the advantages of the Internet as a platform for operational planning. The hacking of official or institutional websites, the theft of personal information for economic or libelous purposes, and the use of networks as a tool for financing are some of the ways terrorists make use of the Internet, all with the aim of instilling terror against Western audiences. The dissemination of professionally edited videos of their murders and propaganda are notable examples.
An International Response
In the field of cyber-security, the responses by national and international authorities have been mixed, with special importance placed on counter-terrorism policies such as infiltration and monitoring the activities of terrorists in order to prevent attacks and gather evidence. Governments have also actively implemented policies focused on cyber-security, such as the creation of specialized centers like the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) or the US Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC), according to Security Intelligence.
However, the complex and polymorphous nature of the terrorist threat requires responses that go beyond the military, police and criminal justice system. The international community calls for the use of strategies to counter jihadist propaganda online in coordination with programs for preventing and countering radicalization by training security forces.
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As the US government continues to battle extremist groups abroad, terrorism and online vulnerabilities will remain a major concern. While groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda lack the economic capability to wage a full-fledged cyber assault on the US, their online activity poses a threat. If you find the subject of cyber-security interesting, you may want to learn more about cyberterrorism.