Cyber Operations and Cyber Terrorism

Cyber operations entail getting behind the most serious aspects of cyber terrorism and leading to the capture of those perpetrating cyber crimes.

Our society’s dependence on the Internet for public and private institutions in the critical sectors of government, defense, emergency services, public health, even the basics of food and water, put us at great risk of cyber terrorism. Telecommunications, transportation, banking, and the like are all conducted via the Internet and this dependence creates a frightening scenario.

Cyberspace is composed of hundreds of computers, servers, routers, switches and fiber-optic cables that allow the system to work. Any act of cyber terrorism against any of these institutions is a violation to our national security.

The goal of cyber operations is to prevent cyber attacks against any and all critical infrastructures and to reduce the weaknesses inherent in our system. Another goal of cyber operations is to minimize the impact and damage of any cyber attack that does occur.

Our national security is fully dependent upon our current system of information technology. The computer networks that are in danger are the same ones that control many physical workings such as that of electrical transformers, trains, chemical vats, radars, and therefore, any manipulation to these systems can create chaos.

The risk posed by cyber terrorism is very present in the world today. It is also an often debated topic among the security community, as well as those involved in information technology. Many experts have thrown around the idea of how likely it would be for a cyber terrorist to hack into computers that control functions such as how dams or bridges work, or wreak havoc with air traffic control systems. As much as these ideas have been discussed, there has not been any real instance to date of this sort of cyber terrorism.

Because most of our current society is now revolving around the Internet, e-commerce, and online banking, the threat of cyber terrorism is something that cyber-operations specialists must address. Hackers have proven that it is not all that difficult to get into a computer network and manipulate it at will. Although hackers are not in themselves cyber terrorists, they have proven how simple this type of mayhem would be to create. Those who would like to inflict cyber terrorism can follow this example and gain access to critical data from governments, as well as private computer networks. This type of cyber terrorism could disable financial and military organizations. Our society’s dependence on the Internet, and our focus on having everything accessible via the Web, has created vulnerabilities in our defense systems. Where once it would have been difficult for a terrorist to tamper with a water treatment facility, it is quite feasible that a cyber terrorist could manipulate such a facility with disastrous results. It would be safe to say that the real risk of cyber terrorism is well founded. However, there is still some exaggeration in the media that is not rational when it comes to the threat of cyber terrorism.

The concept of the term cyber terrorism harkens back to the early 1990s, when the Internet was young and the heated discussions about the future of security and the use of the Internet were just beginning. At this time in the Internet’s infancy, the National Academy of Sciences was worried that there could be more damage caused with a keyboard, than with a bomb. After the attacks on 9/11, the security of our computer systems naturally came under scrutiny. There were many debates about the security of computer networks of our military and defense systems in general and the ideas of what a cyber terrorist could do to our infrastructure.

Cyber operations have become not only a highly-relevant issue, but also a very profitable one. This has created an entire industry dedicated to combating the threat of cyber terrorism. Think tanks have developed projects and issued alarming documents on the topic, experts have testified about the dangers of cyber terrorism, and private companies have developed software and discuss other methods to safeguard our precious data. The media has also added their noise to the issue, running frightening headlines insinuating that Al Qaeda will now turn to cyber terrorism to complete its war. The end result of all this is that instances of hacking into sensitive websites, the online theft of critical company data, and outbreaks of new computer viruses are all being considered cyber terrorism.

The use of cyber terrorism is an attractive option for many terrorist groups because it is naturally more cost effective—a terrorist needs only a personal computer to complete the task. These cyber terrorists don’t have the need for explosives or other weapons and can deliver computer viruses through cable, telephone line, and wireless connections instead.

Cyber terrorism is much more inconspicuous than other terrorism methods and it is difficult for security agencies to get a handle on the terrorist’s real identity. In cyberspace, there are no barriers to have to cross—no customs agents or checkpoints that have to be avoided.

Possible focus of cyber-terrorist groups are airlines, public utilities, private individuals, and government and security agencies. The vast amounts of targets possibly guarantee that terrorists can find a target with a weakness. It is frightening to think that several studies have shown that a cyber attack on bridges or dams, or some other such complex system, is highly likely since the complexity of these systems make them almost impossible to protect fully. Plus, cyber terrorism can be conducted from a distance, thereby making it much simpler and safer for a cyber terrorist to complete their work. Cyber terrorism also does not require any physical training and does not involve any dangers of travel or risk of mortality since it is all conducted through the Internet.

Unfortunately, there is no single technology that can make an organization completely secure. No matter how much money or time is invested on cyber operations and security there may still not be a sure way to prevent disruptions from cyber terrorism. It may not be possible to prevent all cyber attacks from happening in the future, but our society needs to look at our dependence on the Internet and how we can best protect ourselves.

Trond is 2 x Master level in both e-Commerce and Internet Marketing and is a certified security professional working for the Norwegian company MesterWeb AS. He is also certified Microsoft MCSE, Cisco CCIE Written Exam, Cisco CCNP, etc. His interests are ethical hacking and søkemotoroptimalisering.

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Cyber Operations and Cyber Terrorism
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Cyber Operations and Cyber Terrorism
Cyber operations entail getting behind the most serious aspects of cyber terrorism and leading to the capture of those perpetrating cyber crimes.
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