Computer Crime Research Center

Putting cyberterrorism into context

Date: October 09, 2004
Source: AusCERT
By: Kathryn Kerr

... the reason for the attack, eg through virtual-sit-ins which invite participation from ordinary Internet users as a form of political protest [24]. Such attacks are usually symbolic expressions of protest and while they may be illegal are not intended to, or are incapable of causing damage or disruption sufficient to endanger life or cause serious economic damage. Such attacks are likely to continue on an opportunistic basis in response to international and global conflict.

What is the threat of common forms of cyber attack?

Any organisation with an Internet connection faces a significant threat of cyber attack. The rate of malicious scanning that occurs against networks, the rate of new information about serious computer vulnerabilities and the frequency of reports of serious computer attacks crime demonstrate that the opportunities for attack are numerous as are the number of attackers willing to launch such attacks. The motives for other forms of cyber attack also vary and may range from illicit financial gain, personal use of resources, competitor advantage or malicious damage. Additionally, many attacks are indiscriminate, as attackers are less concerned with who they are attacking rather than launching the attack itself.


The threat of cyber attack for organisations with Internet connections is high. For the most part this threat has little to do with the occurrence of conventional terrorist attacks, increased international tensions or nation state conflicts. Certainly, these events may increase the threat of politically motivated web site defacements or other forms of politically motivated low impact cyber attack, but only slightly. These forms of attack still occur relatively infrequently, despite tumultous events over the last few years, and requires a system to be vulnerable in order for a compromise to succeed. Cyberterrorism, while possible, is assessed to be very unlikely - and indeed, as far as we and others are aware - there have been no reported cases of it which match the above definitions. At present, terrorists seem to prefer the mileage to be gained from conventional methods of attack.

Misuse of the term or a pre-occupation with cyberterrorism as the seeming greatest source of threat may divert attention from addressing other forms of cyber attack which are capable of causing serious harm to organisations and infrastructures and which have occurred far more often and will continue to do so. Our focus should be on preventing serious and harmful cyber attack regardless of who conducts them or what their motives may be. If organisations are taking steps to protect themselves from ordinary cyber attacks of the type that are reported in the media and the 2003 Australian Computer Crime and Security Survey, then they will be well placed to protecting against all forms of cyber attack.

As a final footnote, the Canberra bushfires earlier this year illustrated how a natural disaster, assessed to be a one in a hundred year event, was able to disrupt and damage critical telecommunications, power, gas, water and sewerage infrastructures, for an extended period of time and affected individuals, businesses, government and organisations that depended on these services. Organisations and businesses should therefore ensure they focus on managing all threats - deliberate, accidental or natural - logical or physical - and implement appropriate security measures to manage that risk. This includes having in place sound disaster recovery or business continuity plans and computer incident response plans.


First published in AusCERT Member Newsletter, Vol. 7, No. 2 in July 2003

3. Pollitt, M.M., Cyberterrorism Fact or Fantasy?


5. Merari, A., (1993) Terrorism as a Strategy of Insurgency, Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 5, No. 4,


7. Garrison, L and Grand, M. (ed) (2001) Cyberterrorism: An evolving concept, NIPC Highlights,

8. Denning, D. (2000), Cyberterrorism,

9. Lewis, J.A., (2002) Assessing the risk of cyber terrorism, cyber war and other cyber threats, Center for Strategic and International Studies,


11. Denning, D.E. (nd) Activism, Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy,

12. Denning, D.E. (2000) Cyberterrorism,

13. Denning, D., (1999) Activism, Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy,


15. Devost, M.G., Houghton, B.K. and Pollard, N.A., Information Terrorism,



18. Denning, D.E., (1999) Activism, Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy,

19. Denning, D.E., (2000) Cyberterrorism,

20. Littleton, M.J. (1995) Information Age Terrorism: Toward Cyberterror,

21. Green, J. (2002), The Myth of Cyberterrorism,

22. Denning, D.E., (2001) Is Cyber Terror Next?

23. eCommerce Times (2001), US, Chinese Hackers Wage Quiet War

24. Denning, D.E., (1999) Activism, Hacktivism, and Cyberterrorism: The Internet as a Tool for Influencing Foreign Policy
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