Cyber Terrorism: The Greatest Risks in the United States
Cybercrime remains to be a term that has not been fully defined however; cyber terrorism became a matter of concern after the September 11 terrorist attack of the World Trade Centre.
There has not been a conclusive definition of cyber terrorism but it has been developed from the events that are caused by the threats posed from the internet use that are intended at causing instability.
There are enormous risks posed by cyber terrorism to the United States though there is no known serious attack that has been committed so far. There are significant efforts put in place to fight cyber terrorism and nip it in the bud early enough.
In most literature papers I have read cyber terrorism has not been adequately defined because of the sensationalist approach it has been given. The media personalities who have always been at the forefront in reporting have not adequately understood the true meaning of the of cyber terrorism. Cyber is more that involves computers and the internet network, whereas, terrorism is where violence and intimidation is applied mostly for political gains. Terrorism is aimed at innocent people. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon because it has been around for as long as we can remember. Cyber terrorism however is new and has been around since the advent of the internet in the 90s. This kind of violence is aided by internet and just like terrorism targets civilians who are innocent (information Security Solutions Europe (Conference), Reimer, Pohlmann and Schneider, 2013).
The metamorphosis of war or terrorism from the traditional physical warfare to virtual war has even complicated the war on terrorism even further. In this breadth, that we can say that cyber terrorism poses a very huge risk to the United States. Computers and internet have become major components in aiding governance and terrorists have conspired to use the same tools of governance to intimidate and cripple government functions. They also use the same mode to cause harm to civilians.
It is important to try and identify the difference between terrorism and other the act of hacking computers. Hacking is only intended to manipulate and exploit the vulnerable nature of some platforms or operating systems. At times hackers may not be malicious or politically motivated.
Stopping the threats posed by terrorism is a number one priority of the United States. Terrorism is adapting to new different forms everyday and soon cyber terrorism will be the number one threat. There have been steep rise in cases of terrorism done through the net in the last decade and after the advent of the internet.
Risks posed by social media as a conduit
Social media gained its popularity in the 90s and its popularity and use has been on an exponential rise ever since. Majority of the users of the social media in the United States are the youth who account for 60% of the ardent users.
The social media poses a great danger because of the fact that terrorists recruit through the media. The freedom the social media enjoys has made it the avenue of choice for the cyber terrorists to recruit (Chen, Jarvis and Macdonald, 2014).
The United States congress has been of the view that proper legislation need to be in place to provide more ways to deal with terrorism in the internet. The sophistication involved has not been fully understood by the authorities. The department of defense has been very concerned by the vulnerabilities that face the private sector and the information technology suppliers. Very little efforts have been made by security agencies to involve the vulnerable sectors in cyber security preparedness.
Forms of Cyber Attack
Cyber terrorists basically have two ways of carrying out attacks; it could either be against data and the other on control systems. Data attacks getting illegal acquisition of information. The terrorists steal or destroy so as not to be able to execute its functions to the civilians. This is likely to cause chaos to the people who expect services to be rendered to them. The discontent can create chaos. A good example, is where, so many people lose credit card details or destruction of web pages.
The control system on the other hand is where terrorists literally manipulate government websites. Control systems control and maintain the websites and therefore terrorists will use the opportunity to slow down, weaken or destroy the websites.
Cyber terrorism is very complex just as the methods of attack deployed by the users. There are several ways these attacks take place for example, virus have been known to slow down computers or interfere with their normal functioning, cyber terrorists now use the viruses and Trojan horses to extract information, destroy and delete information. If the information stored was very sensitive, there is likelihood that their loss will cause chaos (Reich and Gelbstein, 2012).
Terrorist also deny the distribution of services. These kinds of attacks occur when the system is attacked to kill traffic and interfere with the normal functions. These attacks are also known to reveal passwords and other important information stored in the computers.
Web defacement is also another method used by cyber terrorists to attack an opponent. This kind of attack has very commonly been used to intimidate and inconvenience the users. Web defacement can also be used to pass an important message.
Domain attacks are also one commonly used weapon. A web page attacked will most definitely breakdown and core routing. Such attack is very costly because the attacker can redirect users without their knowledge. It takes time and a lot of money to repair a DNS attack.
Why Use Cyber Terrorism
There are several reasons why terrorists now prefer the use of cyber terrorism. It is not only a modern method of doing things but there are several factors that make it appealing. The government of the United States has invested resources to mitigate the effects of terrorism however with the advent of cyber, terrorism has become cheaper and has been preferred by terrorists. There is no more need to use so many resources with logistics and buying weapons. A cyber terrorist only needs to have a computer and the internet to carry out cyber attacks. Cyber terrorism is also cheaper because there are no arrangement costs to be made. There is so much security in our airports and therefore terrorists prefer not to travel at all but do it in the comfort of their homes.
Cybercrime is also private and there is no mode of verifying the identity of a person. The persons engaging in terrorism prefer use of pseudo names and therefore remain anonymous. Security agencies in the US, despite investing heavily in cyber crack units.
A cyber terrorist can target a very large group from institutions, government among other entities. It would not be easy to tell from a terrorist to an ordinary hacker. Terrorists will retrieve information from important government computers.
To be a terrorist, much training is required to be able to do things without being identified. Cyber crime has made it easy to carry out terrorism remotely. No training is required to be a cyber terrorist and this has made it easier for terrorists to recruit new members. There are far less risks involved compared to the traditional terrorism. There is more outreach of cyber terrorism compared to the traditional terrorism.
Cyber terrorism should be a cause of concern to the United States is very real. The 9/11 attack was a despicable act of terrorism that was worse than anything imaginable of terrorism. The attack was so bad it was considered the worst a terrorist can do but the advent of cyber crime is an indication that there are much more worse these terrorists can do. The United States is facing a more serious danger, more serious because it can disable the functions of government, attack nuclear sites and endanger the lives of millions in America. There is a poor understanding of cyber crime and therefore what cyber terrorists can do has not been conclusively understood.
The war against terrorism is a very complex one especially when the cyber is involved. For an action to be taken on any intelligence report, it must be timely. Action can only be taken if there is an actionable warning or intelligence. The problem with cyber terrorism is that it happens so fast.
Initially terrorists were ordinary malicious criminals with intent to cause instability and chaos to innocent civilians in other countries for political gains. However, it must be noted that terrorism has changed and mutated to the use of internet by countries that are intent to causing political instability or fighting proxy wars with other countries. It is interesting to note that the greatest cyber threats to the United States and its interests are major countries with huge potential and technology in the information technology sector. Countries that now pose the biggest threat to the United States are china, Iran and Russia.
There have been several intrusions reported especially from china and the Islamic Peoples Republic of Iran. There have been several instances where United States drones have been downed in either Iran or china after their systems were hacked. The RSA has also been attacked though the attack was considered inconsequential. Whereas the attack was downgraded, it is a cause of concern when some of the most secure systems like the RSA are attacked; this is an indication of how nasty cyber terrorism can get in future (Janczewski and Colarik, 2008).
The united states security agencies need to put in place measures to mitigate incase such attacks were to happen on vital security installations like the power grid. An attack on the power grid will definitely cause more deaths in hospitals and rail systems were they to come to an abrupt halt. The complexity results from the fact that most power is supplied by private entities that may not be privy to such impending attacks.
American Growing Vulnerabilities
American interests and installations have been the target of terrorism. Whereas there is legislation in the form of Patriot Act, the dynamic nature of terrorism is not easy to control. Cyber terrorism manifests itself in different ways every day. Cyber terrorism can disrupt bank functions and the stock market or invade the Federal Reserve. All this can happen so fast yet the person causing them may be so far away in another country.
The American government is worried if terrorists master the technology to attack air traffic controls or planes. Terrorists could also take control of nuclear facilities like was the case in Iran where nuclear reactors were hacked. The ability to remote all this is considered a very big threat by national security advisors (Young, 2012).
In 1997 as Verton (2013) observes in his book, during the exercise sanctioned by the National Security Agency named “Eligible Receiver”. Recruits were asked to hack American base at Hawaii without compromising or breaking any law. They were to pose as North Korea terrorists. They were also asked to use simple techniques available on the net. The scary result is the team was able to hack various government sensitive documents and files from the comfort of their rooms. This was a serious indication of how vulnerable the country was to cyber crime (Owens, Dam, Lin and National Research Council (U.S.), 2009).
Several sectors of the United States economy is ill prepared for cyber crime and the risks that may come with such laxity is unimaginable. Most companies have increased the risks by relying heavily on the internet to carry out their activities. The thirst for a larger market has left the companies with no option but to rely on the net. However, the common industries lack the technical knowhow available to cyber experts in the security agencies like NSDA to counter cyber crime (Costigan and Perry, 2012).
Attacks on several Al-Qaida cells reveal a worrisome trend among the terrorists. A raid in Afghanistan by the US troops recovered computers that contained structural engineering designs of various US installations like stadiums, electronic designs of dams, piping systems, nuclear plants and sites among other strategic installations. This was not a mere coincidence because the details were so conclusive. Though no attack has been carried out in these installations, it is a warning sign of the emerging trend terrorists are adopting. The terrorists now have experts with technical knowhow to destabilize a superpower (Janczewski and Colarik, 2008).
Whereas no serious threats have been recorded with cyber terrorism, more needs to be done to counter such threats appropriately in future. Whereas the American security installations are considered the most secure, terrorists are also using unscrupulous methods to gain access. They have been known to recruits experts attached to the US security agencies to assist them access the secure networks.
Cyber terrorism is the new fighting front because of its popularity. Cyber technology is also still developing and therefore it is still open to manipulations by those who dare to study the more technicalities involved. Terrorists are currently facing financial constraints but we can never tell what they can do with enough capital to establish serious command centers with capable personnel or computer wizards. Currently the greatest threat seems to be the suicide bombers and hijackers bent on causing more deaths and destruction. The United States should always invest more in security and in this case cyber security to be ahead of the terrorists at all times.
So far the threat of cyber terrorism is exaggerated because none has been reported to date. However, security agencies should always be aware so as not to let terrorists exploit the use of internet.
Costigan, S. S., & Perry, J. (2012). Cyberspaces and global affairs. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
In Chen, T. M., In Jarvis, L., & In Macdonald, S. (2014). Cyberterrorism: Understanding, assessment, and response.
Information Security Solutions Europe (Conference), In Reimer, H., In Pohlmann, N., & In Schneider, W. (2013). ISSE 2013 securing electronic business processes: Highlights of the Information Security Solutions Europe 2013 Conference.
Janczewski, L., & Colarik, A. M. (2008). Cyber warfare and cyber terrorism. Hershey: Information Science Reference.
Owens, W. A., Dam, K. W., Lin, H., & National Research Council (U.S.). (2009). Technology, policy, law, and ethics regarding U.S. acquisition and use of cyberattack capabilities. Washington, D.C: National Academies Press.
Reich, P. C., & Gelbstein, E. (2012). Law, policy, and technology: Cyberterrorism, information warfare, and Internet immobilization. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.
Verton, D. (2003). Black ice: The invisible threat of cyber-terrorism. New York [u.a.: McGraw-Hill/Osborne.
Young, D. H. (2012). Restore the future: The second american revolution. S.l.: Iuniverse Inc.