From “Cyberterrorism” to “Online Radicalism”

From “Cyberterrorism” to “Online Radicalism”

Maura Conway (Dublin City University, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5776-2.ch014
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This chapter explores the changes that have taken place in the role and functioning of the Internet in terrorism and counter-terrorism in the past decade. It traces the shift in focus from a preoccupation with the threat of so-called “cyberterrorism” in the period pre- and immediately post-9/11 to the contemporary emphasis on the role of the Internet in processes of violent radicalization. The cyberterrorism threat is explained as over-hyped herein, and the contemporary focus, by researchers and policymakers, on the potential of the Internet as a vehicle for violent radicalization viewed as more appropriate albeit not without its difficulties. This change in emphasis is at least partially predicated, it is argued, on the significant changes that occurred in the nature and functioning of the Internet in the last decade: the advent of Web 2.0, with its emphasis on social networking, user generated content, and digital video is treated as particularly salient in this regard. Description and analysis of both “negative” and “positive” Internet-based Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) and online counterterrorism measures and their evolutions are also supplied.
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On Cyberterrorism

Dorothy Denning’s (2006) definitions of cyberterrorism are probably the most well known and respected. Her most recent attempt at definition refers to cyberterrorism as composing

…highly damaging computer-based attacks or threats of attack by non-state actors against information systems when conducted to intimidate or coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are political or social. It is the convergence of terrorism with cyberspace, where cyberspace becomes the means of conducting the terrorist act. Rather than committing acts of violence against persons or physical property, the cyberterrorist commits acts of destruction or disruption against digital property (Denning, 2006, p. 124).

Analyses of cyberterrorism can usefully be divided into two broad categories on the basis of where the producers stand on the definition issue: those who agree broadly with Denning versus those who wish to incorporate not just “use,” but a host of other activities into the definition (Macdonald et al., 2013). The literature can also be divided on the basis of where the authors stand on the magnitude of the cyberterrorism threat. Dunn-Cavelty (2007) uses the term “Hypers” to describe those who believe a cyberterrorist attack is not just likely, but imminent,1 and the term “De-Hypers” to describe those who believe such an attack is unlikely. Most journalists, excepting dedicated technology journalists, are hypers as are sizeable numbers of academics. In a recent survey, carried out by the University of Swansea’s Cyberterrorism Project, for example, 58% of researchers surveyed view cyberterrorism as a significant threat whilst, in response to a separate question, 49% evinced the view that cyberterrorism has already taken place (Macdonald et al., 2013). Despite the presence of large numbers of terrorist organizations and their supporters online, it is this author’s position that no act of cyberterrorism has ever yet occurred and the threat is over-hyped. I am thus emphatically a de-hyper; below, I lay out the three major reasons why.

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