Computer Crime Research Center


Terrorism includes cyber attacks

Date: January 13, 2008
By: Austin Bay

In the computer age, the difference between an act of war and crime often is a matter of interpretation as well as degree.

Attack a nation's highways and railroads, and you've attacked transportation infrastructure. You also have committed an act of war.

An electronic attack doesn't leave craters or bleeding human casualties, at least not in the same overt sense of an assault with artillery and bombs. However, the economic costs can be much larger than a classic barrage or bombing campaign.

Cyberspace has become a much busier and more dangerous place in the past 15 years. Today, entire nations rely on computer networks for communications, economic transfers and information storage. Computers and computer networks are lucrative targets for criminals. This increased economic and information reliance means that in the 21st century, targeting a nation's electronic infrastructure is an act of war.

Spies and soldiers know that cyber attacks aren't new and that institutional computer systems, even large, ostensibly well-protected ones such as those used by banks, big businesses and government agencies, also are vulnerable. In the early 1990s, a senior National Security Agency staffer told me that individual hackers constantly were trying to penetrate "various government networks."

In late April, the world got a look at the economic and psychological effects of a "massed" cyber attack -- a sophisticated, sustained and coordinated "hack" of an entire country.

Estonia was the victim. Estonia is a "wired society." The country has made Internet access an economic and political priority. During a period of weeks (April through mid-May), Estonia suffered from what The Washington Post described as "massive and coordinated cyber attacks on Web sites of the government, banks, telecommunications companies, Internet service providers and news organizations."

Estonia's minister of defense called the attacks "organized attacks on basic modern infrastructures." According to news reports, Estonia claimed that the attacks originated at the Internet addresses of "state agencies in Russia." Russia denied the charge, attributing the attacks to criminals and vandals.

There is no doubt that the Internet is rife with criminal activity. On Sept. 5, called China "Computer Crime Central." The StrategyPage report focused on "poisoned Web sites" that try to steal financial data (such as bank account login information). StrategyPage argued that some Internet criminal activity appeared to link to "attacks on Western military and government networks."

Those attacks certainly occur. On Sept. 3, the Financial Times reported that China's military had hacked "a Pentagon computer network" in June. That followed reports that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel had complained about Chinese hacking of German computer systems to China's premier.

A criminal act or an act of war? Until 9/11, the U.S. government treated terrorism as a criminal-type activity to be confronted with a robust law enforcement effort. That approach, however, proved inadequate.

Austin Bay, an author and colonel (retired) in the U.S. Army Reserve, writes for Creators Syndicate, 5777 W Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045. Send e-mail through or www.
Add comment  Email to a Friend

Discussion is closed - view comments archieve
2008-01-20 21:23:10 - Cyber terrorism goes way back to 1998 when... Spy Guy
Total 1 comments
Copyright © 2001-2024 Computer Crime Research Center
CCRC logo