Cyberterrorism: Can Terrorist Goals be Achieved Using the Internet?

Cyberterrorism: Can Terrorist Goals be Achieved Using the Internet?

Gráinne Kirwan (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ireland) and Andrew Power (Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-350-8.ch011

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In order to illustrate the potential of the Internet for terrorist causes, two fictional scenarios are presented below.

A government has a strong online presence, maintaining official websites along with several profiles on a variety of social networking websites. One afternoon, a ‘Denial of Service’ attack renders their official websites useless. No legitimate user can gain access to the information or services available online, including taxation, health care appointments and corporation services. Simultaneously, unofficial access is gained to the government run social networking profiles, and status messages are posted which include insulting comments that are offensive to many members of the society, particularly those in the armed services. The government realizes that they have been the victim of an attack by a terrorist organization. While it only takes a few days to restore their online presence to its previous status, there is significant damage to the public confidence in the government. The people are worried that terrorists may have accessed their personal information, and that they are at risk of identity theft. They also have concerns that the government is unable to properly defend their online resources appropriately.

A young man is beginning to feel disillusioned. He feels that society is not treating him as well as it should, and that the regime he lives under is unfair, particularly to his ethnic group. He spends some time searching the internet, and finds the website of a terrorist organization. The website is filled with information and propaganda. There are messages from the terrorists, explaining their reasons for fighting, and the young man finds that he agrees with their position. He views pictures on the website of women and children being mistreated by the regime, and he becomes angry. He finds instructions on the website for making bombs, but is still unsure if he wants to become violent for his cause. The website includes a chat facility, within which he makes contact with members of the terrorist organization. He finds they hold the same beliefs as he does, and although he is still a little unsure, he finds their arguments very persuasive. For the first time in many years he feels that others understand his perspective. After a vetting process, he joins their organization.

In addition to these, there have been several fictional depictions of cyberterrorism in the popular media. One of the most famous of these is the 2007 film Live Free or Die Hard (released as Die Hard 4.0 outside of the United States), which depicted a scenario where a terrorist organization employed computer hackers to develop code that was used to take control of various critical systems, including traffic lights and the stock market (Fottrell & Wiseman, 2007). While the above scenarios are fictional, and the world has not experienced an attack similar to that portrayed in the Die Hard film, terrorists are making increased use of modern technology for their causes. In September 2010 the Stuxnet worm (a form of malware) infiltrated some of the personal computers at Iran’s first nuclear power station (BBC News, 2010a). If it ever reaches the computers designed to control the industrial machinery, such as motors and coolers, it may be able to instruct the equipment to turn on or off at given signals or equipment status settings. It is a highly tailored worm, searching for very specific configurations. While it is not yet known who the developer of the worm was, or whether their motive is cyberterrorism or something else, this case provides evidence that there is potential for cyberterrorists to cause significant harm to critical systems.

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