Using the Internet to Plan for Terrorist Attack

Using the Internet to Plan for Terrorist Attack

David Romyn (Griffith University, Australia) and Mark Kebbell (Griffith University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0156-5.ch005


In this chapter, we discuss how terrorists can use the Internet as a source of information to plan for terrorist attacks. Online anonymity services such as virtual private network (VPN) are discussed, along with advantages and disadvantages of using these services. We also discuss online bomb-making instructions and highlight ways in which these can be used to the advantage of law enforcement. Finally, the use of the Internet as a reconnaissance tool for target selection is discussed, with descriptions of current and past research in this field to identify key information that is available to terrorists, and how this information can be manipulated to reduce the likelihood or severity of a terrorist attack.
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Tracing Terrorist Activity Online

While some authors (e.g., Conway, 2006; Keene, 2011; Thomas, 2003) discuss ways in which the Internet can facilitate aspects of planning and conducting a terrorist attack, other authors (e.g., Benson, 2014; Kenney, 2010; Torres-Soriano, 2012) argue that the Internet poses a risk to terrorists that use it, and a method by which law enforcement can identify and track terrorists. Both of these conclusions are partly correct.

Benson (2014) notes that while the Internet can give the perception of anonymity to those who use it, it is still possible for law enforcement to trace where information has come from and where it has gone. While this is true of the ability to monitor and trace general Internet traffic, this assertion may not be true in all cases if someone takes steps to remain anonymous online and hide their identity. An investigation of the use of online anonymity practices amongst those involved with online piracy, found a portion (17.8%) of those involved with the practice, used services such a VPN to hide their identity online (Larsson, Svensson, de Kaminski, Rönkkö, & Olsson, 2012). Antoniades, Markatos, and Dovrolis (2010) note that there are over 100,000 Internet users who are using TOR on a daily basis to hide their identity. Those involved with terrorism, who are also motivated to hide their identity online, could use these same methods to make tracking them more difficult.

The use of a VPN is a reasonably robust method to ensure online anonymity. All traffic sent between a user and a VPN is encrypted, so that the content of this traffic is hidden from the Internet service provider (ISP) or any other agency that may be collecting metadata (Larsson et al., 2012). The use of a VPN also makes it difficult to identify which individuals have accessed particular information online, as the identifying information will be referred to the VPN itself, rather than the person who was using that VPN. It has also been found that as the efforts of authorities to track particular individuals increase, so does the use of VPN to hide people’s identity.

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