Computer Crime Research Center


Cyberterrorism: concept, terms, counteraction

Date: August 31, 2004
Source: Computer Crime Research Center
By: Vladimir Golubev

Distribution of weapons of mass destruction, transnational organized crime, drug selling business and international terrorism are the principal threats to security of modern world taking into account present-day conditions. Due to its scales and abruptness, nowadays terrorism turned into one of the most dangerous social and moral problems that humanity faced in the 21 century. Terrorist groups became a highly remunerative business involving selling drugs, weapons, counterfeit production, porn, blackmail and kidnapping. Their activities are more varied now; they are more and more linked with national, religious, and ethnic conflicts, separatist and liberation movements.

Tragic events of September 11 became a crucial moment of the world community's perception of international terrorism. The status of this problem has gained a unanimous recognition in the documents of the UN and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).

As it was mentioned more than once by participants of the Second International Conference "World Community against the Globalization of Crime and Terrorism" (Moscow, 2004), the main determinants of terrorism have a multilateral nature, equally political and social, ideological, religious and ethnic. However, social economic reasons expressed in extreme social discrepancy are the main basis of modern terrorism.

According to V. Luneev, it is impossible for terrorist leaders to develop serious terrorist activities without involvement of wide social base [1]. That's why modern terrorism broadly (especially international terrorism) is not so much a conflict of religions, nations, civilizations, as it is an antagonism between extreme poverty of people, who often live in potentially rich regions and unlimited wealth of another countries. In this point, the mainstream is not so much about poverty, as it is about extreme social unfairness in the world, suppressed by serious direct and indirect pressure and violence of a certain social layer, country and one nation against the other.

Terrorism, particularly its new forms: technological or high-tech terrorism, showed itself globally as the phenomena of the international character, acting openly without any frontiers.

According to the Treaty of CIS countries on cooperation to fight terrorism [2], technological terrorism is:
a) use of nuclear, radiological, chemical and bacteriological (biological) weapons or its components,
b) use of pathogenic micro organisms radioactive and other substances, that are harmful for people; including capture, damage and destruction of nuclear, chemical and other objects of heightened technological or ecological danger, life-supporting systems of cities or other localities;
if these actions appear to be intended:
- to breach public security;
- to intimidate or coerce civilian population;
- to influence governmental policy by intimidation or coercion;
- to achieve political, mercenary or other ends, and also attempts to commit any of the mentioned above violations for the same purposes;
c) managing, financing or participation as a monger, an accomplice or an ally to the person who commits or attempts to commit such violation.

Terrorists use information technologies and global network posing a dangerous threat to the humanity in the 21 century. According to the Fiscal Year 2000 Performance Report and Fiscal Year 2002 Performance Plan, rapid technological advancements of the information age have rendered crime-fighting efforts increasingly complex and opened new avenues for global criminal activities, increasing interconnectivity of American critical infrastructures through cyber and information systems has created new vulnerabilities as criminals, terrorists, and foreign intelligence services learn to exploit the power of cyber tools and weapons; the challenge that computer crime presents to federal law enforcement in the 21st century creates a clear goal to help secure cyberspace by minimizing the impact of malevolent actors on the U.S. information systems[3].

Cyberterrorism or computer terrorism is a dangerous display of technological terrorism; it causes special anxiety of experts due to high vulnerability of computer systems that control critical infrastructure (transport, nuclear power stations, water and energy supply) connected to the Internet.

The Internet presents terrorists exclusive opportunities[4]. It serves as a source of easy (without drawing any unnecessary attention) access to almost all data: starting from potential arms suppliers and ending with necessary manuals on how to make bombs. Anyone can easily transfer or receive necessary funds (by collecting donations or hacking into banks), recruit mercenaries or teach their thoughts throughout the Internet. Finally, terrorists can rapidly disrupt normal operation of any object of civil or military infrastructure through the Internet almost without any costs. All this can be done with high-level safety from governmental interference in information flows, and with the secrecy that is a main feature of terrorist activity. Still, terrorists generally use the Internet as a means of communication or transfer of their ideology, but not as a weapon. Another day, another governmental body or another bank is exposed to computer attacks. We can't call such attacks terrorism, as they do not lead to casualties or threats to people's lives. However, cyberterrorism has already become a means of blackmail. So, everything else is a question of time, we can witness a birth of a new kind of terrorism, where subversive activity will be committed not by means of explosives, but through attacks at biggest information systems on the Internet. Governmental organizations and huge commercial institutions will become the first victims of cyberterrorism [5].

Dr Magnus Ranstorp, Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, one of the biggest world's expert on Islamic terrorism and a CNN principal consultant on Terrorism and bin Laden before and after 11 September 2001 writes in his analysis entitled "Al-Qaeda in cyberspace: terrorism challenges in the information era" that terrorists use the Internet as it presents maximum organizational and assaulting capabilities. Cyber space allows conducting theoretical, military, theological teaching and propaganda, and also recruiting and maintaining communication between separate units.

Besides satellite phones and indefinable cellular sim-cards, for instance Swiss, Al Qaeda uses e-mail at popular portals like Hotmail and Yahoo to exchange messages and it is impossible to intercept them. Terrorists use a huge archive of users' "templates", users gave them screen names and passwords. Thus terrorists may communicate using e-mail addresses of their familiars or relatives who are not known to special services; they often use Internet cafes.

Osama bin Laden showed the importance of the Internet to him when he created an original hacker school at the faculty of electronics at his university. This importance is also displayed by introduction of Cyber University in Pakistan to study these SCADA systems controlling water distribution networks, dams, gas and oil pipelines and nuclear power plants.

Ranstorp reminds that Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah also possesses up-to-date information technologies at their disposal and he also believes that Al-Qaeda is able to organize a scaled terrorist act having united all traditional actions with information attack and it might lead to huge monetary losses.

An original electronic Pearl Harbor may happen like this: an explosion of "electronic bomb" in a financial center of a huge Western city then followed by Internet attacks on key elements of economy like bank transfer systems, American Fedwire and international CHIPS and Swift.

"It is becoming perfectly clear that Al Qaeda have spent much more time to learn cyber space than we expected", Ranstorp concludes. "They will try to attack most vulnerable targets. The question is not whether Ben Laden will start Internet warfare, the question is: When he will do it."

Dorothy Denning, a renowned expert in research into computer crime, in her book "Activism, Hacktivism and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool to Influence Foreign Policy" writes "Is cyberterrorism the way of the future" For a terrorist, it would have some advantages over physical methods. It could be conducted remotely and anonymously, it would be cheap, and it would not require handling of explosives or a suicide mission. It would likely garner extensive media coverage, as journalists and the public alike are fascinated by practically any kind of computer attack. One highly acclaimed study of the risks of computer systems began with a paragraph that concludes, "The terrorist of tomorrow may be able to do more with a keyboard than with a bomb[6]."

"Cyber space has become a component of our economy. The number of transactions made over the Internet has swift increased for the past years in the USA. The work of almost all branches of the country's economy, including energy, transport and communications, banking sphere use computer networks, and, thus, branches depend on the capacity of these networks," said Condoleeza Rice, US National Security Advisor, speaking at the forum devoted to computer security. "The breakage of these networks may paralyze the whole country." The President's Assistant spoke for narrow cooperation between governments and private sector to assure computer security and to prevent computer terrorism.

In his recent interview, Professor Yonah Alexander, director of the International...

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