What Are the Real Risks of Cyber Terrorism?

Cyber terrorism is very present in several industries and media outlets today. How real is the risk?

The risk posed by cyber terrorism is very present in the media today. It is also a well-debated topic amongst the security community, as well as those in the IT industry. Many experts have thrown around the idea of how likely it would be for cyber terrorists 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 a frightening concept. 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. Cyber terrorists can follow this example and gain access to critical data from governments, as well as private computer systems. This type of cyber terrorism could disable financial and military sectors. 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 air traffic patterns, it is quite feasible that a cyber terrorist could manipulate air traffic control systems 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. Since then, many forces have come together to elaborate on the fear of cyber terrorism. From a psychology standpoint, the fear of random victimization common with the concept of cyber terrorism meshes with the general distrust that many have for dependence on computer technology.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center, the security of all aspects of our society came under great scrutiny. There were many debates about the security of cyberspace in general and the ideas of what a cyber terrorist could do to our infrastructure. Fighting cyber terrorism has become not only a highly relevant issue, but also a very profitable one. There is now 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. The media has added 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 of 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.

Confusion is brought into the issue as defining the term “cyber terrorism” is not really agreed upon. One of the reasons for the confusion is that the media, which lives for the drama that it can create, has manipulated the term to indicate anything that it deems criminal through the use of computers. But according to the House Armed Committee in May of 2000, cyber terrorism is “the convergence of cyberspace and terrorism. It refers to unlawful attacks and threats of attacks against computers, networks and the information stored therein when done to intimidate or coerce a government or its people in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

It is critical to look at the difference between cyber terrorism and what is known as “hacktivism.” Hacktivism is a term that describes the combination of hacking that is politically motivated. Hacktivists use four main weapons: virtual blockades, email attacks, computer break-ins, and computer viruses and worms.

The use of cyber terrorism is an attractive option for today’s terrorists for a few reasons. 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.

For the cyber terrorist, the number of targets to choose from is immense. Possible targets are public utilities, airlines, private individuals, and government agencies. With the vast amounts of targets possible, it is a 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 electrical power grids or some other such complex system is highly likely, since the complexity of these systems make them almost impossible to fully protect. Plus, cyber terrorism can be conducted from a remote location, thereby giving it a very attractive appeal to terrorists. A cyber terrorist also does not need any physical training and does not involve any dangers of travel or risk of mortality since it is all conducting through the Internet.

In light of all the warnings and statistics to date, it is critical to remember that there has not been an instance of a cyber terrorism attack on US public facilities, power grids, nuclear power plants, or transportation systems. Cyber attacks have occurred, but not the type that is being spoken of here—the kind that would qualify them as creating the type of damage a true cyber terrorist attack would create.

In conclusion, the real risk of cyber terrorism is really due tour dependence on the Internet, and our inability to thoroughly secure all aspects of it. Fortunately, we have not experienced a true and pure cyber terrorist incident.

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 hund, Joomla and lån uten sikkerhet

Article Source: What Are the Real Risks of Cyber Terrorism?

What Are the Real Risks of Cyber Terrorism?
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What Are the Real Risks of Cyber Terrorism?
Cyber terrorism is very present in several industries and media outlets today. How real is the risk?
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