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Cyber Terrorism and Modern Threats

Since the September 11 attacks on the United States, terrorism has renewed its fervor and intelligently devised ways to cope with the defense mechanisms that world governments have employed to protect the interests of the free world. From suicide bombing to truck bombings and other activities set to cause panic among a vast section of the population to coerce governments or entities to give in to terrorists’ demands, new ways were formulated to be able to take advantage of the technological and logistical developments in the present day societies.

Hence, with the United States at the helm of the global war against terrorism, the crusade waged against the enemies of civilization had been taken into other arenas, other forms and various methodologies to anticipate attacks both from within the borders of the United States and the global field. The war which knows no boundaries has not only meant geographical limitations but also technologically. In a constantly shifting battlefield, the possibilities are greater for these terrorist organizations to acquire more potent weapons to be used against civilian populations.

Though there arises a great debate on the nature of terrorism and the social basis of movements such as this, whether tagged terrorist organizations are legitimate resistance movements, revolutionary forces or state sponsored paramilitary groups, the stress of discussions is still given on the containment of highly destructive weapons and the acquisition and actual usage of these weapons in combat or in preemptive or retaliatory attacks.

This paper will attempt to contribute in providing necessary information on the reality of terrorism, weapons that are planned or possibly considered to employ against military and/or civilian targets and with emphasis to be given on cyber terrorism as the most potent in the terror arsenal. Special attention will be accorded to cyber terrorism because of 21st societies’ dependence on cyber technologies.

The war on terror currently waged by the United States through its armed forces positioned on strategic and key points in the world and allied governments through their local initiatives in disrupting terrorist movements, has created a new global polarization. Under US hegemony, the coalition against terrorism had forcefully broken through a discovery of various terrorist weapons which could be possibly acquired and used in the near future.

This war had expanded its target from organizations tagged as terrorists to states dubbed as “hosts” or “rogue” states and as such, pose greater threat as these states are allegedly in the process of acquisition, development or actual possession of weapons of mass destruction. Afghanistan and Iraq were the first to experience US-led armed initiatives and Syria, North Korea and Iran were on the priority list of future military actions if their regimes would refuse to cooperate and allow full access to suspected facilities involved in the proliferation of these weapons (NIACa, 2006, p.

1-3 ). Weapons which are feared to be in the terrorists’ arsenal are nuclear, biological, chemical, radiological and electronic weapons capable of paralyzing or to a greater extent decimate entire populations, industries and “civilizations” when these weapons would find their ways to dangerous hands. The British Medical Journal reported certain movements on the part of terrorists which indicated a stern attempt on their part to obtain the technology and resources needed to be able to get hold of a nuclear weapon.

The efforts of the al-Qaeda network to obtain nuclear weapons or weapons grade nuclear materials are particularly worrying. Al-Qaeda agents have tried to buy uranium from South Africa, and have made repeated trips to three central Asian states to try to buy weapons grade material or complete nuclear weapons. (Helfand, Forrow and Tiwari, 2002, p. 357) Hence, the reality of a nuclear threat is clearly imminent and clearly outlined for terror attacks.

Bio-chemical weapons were used by Saddam Hussein against Iraqi Kurds and in the 1990’s and that event led the global community into conclusion that the dangers presented were unambiguously laid before the eyes of the West (Human Rights Watch, 1993). In 2001, anthrax had sown terror right at the heart of the United States government. The Capitol Hills was helpless in the sudden eruption of anthrax letters which targeted high government officials and members of the legislature.

It was indeed more than the deaths of several Americans but the effects were disastrously configured to strike the consciousness of the public that even the seat of the world’s superpower would not be able to escape the clutches of terror (Foster, 2003, p. 180-200). The anthrax attacks had severely disrupted the flow of mails in and out of the capital for weeks, caused considerable delays on day to day activities and put the entire United Sates defense apparatus on fire.

While there had been serious talks and regional military mobilizations to arrest these terror attacks, the International Review of the Red Cross argued that: Fortunately there have not been any acts of nuclear or radiological terrorism so far. But the attack with the chemical warfare agent Sarin in Tokyo (1995), the anthrax cases in the USA (2001) and the smuggling of radioactive material are causing concern. Furthermore, the attacks of 11 September 2001 clearly showed that there are groups with considerable financial and human resources as well as the will to inflict the highest possible damage.

(Wirz & Egger, 2005, p. 497) With the exception of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the United States, no other state has ever been able to use weapons with greater magnitude to be possibly acquired by the Al Qaeda or any terrorist organization. The ICRC further offered several reasons why nuclear and biological agents were less likely to be used in the future. Though the possibilities were not discounted, some other options were left and provided quite acceptable and logical reasons worth considering in our probe of the terrorist arsenal.

Aside from these weapons, an effective tool is still left to a terrorist that is more terrorizing and more clandestine in nature. The economic and political activities of the 21st century are highly dependent on electronic infrastructure. Electronic information highways are dubbed as the nervous system of any modern society. Through connections in the cyberspace, the conduct of government and business within a global network relies heavily on the accessibility and security provided by the cyber world (NIACb, 2003, p. vii).

One appalling article had shown how the cyber world could be used as a precursor or an agent in terrorism activities anywhere in the world from planning to training of newly recruited soldiers of the “enemies of the free world. ” The article on WUSA9. com with the title “Terrorists May Use Cyber-Worlds to Plan Attacks” last March this year provided a vivid imagery of how terrorists take advantage of the current technological trends and turns this domain into a useful tool in inflicting damages to the very fibers of democratic societies.

Quoting several experts in technology and terrorism studies, the article divulged that: [Andrew Cochran Co-Founder of the Counter Terrorism Foundation] notes that just like real life multinational companies use these virtual worlds to set up meetings in virtual offices among staff dispersed all over the world and speaking different languages, terrorists can do the same… Further supporting the assertion by: … [An] Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity report [which] concluded that, “Unfortunately, what started out as a benign environment …

is now offering the opportunity for religious/political extremists to recruit, rehearse, transfer money, and ultimately engage in information warfare or worse with impunity. ” (Trull, 2008) The article had shown an emphasis on the possibilities of the cyber world used as a powerful tool in terroristic activities i. e. simulations of attack and/or providing a venue for communications between terror cells and operatives.

However, the other threat which cyber terrorism may pose is the actual employment of cyber-based technologies and methodologies to inflict disaster, sabotage normal conducts of vital installations and key industries. Essentially, cyber terrorism is a form of coercion directed against government/s, individuals, and/or industries to attain certain political or ideological end by which the “coercing” party would directly or indirectly benefit from the success of the operation either politically or economically with the usage of electronic or “computing” resources.

As the Computer Crime Research Center technically puts it: …cyber terrorism is the non-authorized intervention in job of telecommunication networks components, computer programs functioning in their environment, removal or the updating of the computer data causing disorganization the crucial elements job of state infrastructure and creating danger of people destruction, causing of significant property damage or approach of other socially dangerous consequences. (Golubev, 2002)

So beyond the reach of the barrels of the gun, a war is being waged in the cyber room, often silently and clandestine. Combating this type of terrorism may not involve missiles or tanks but the implications of victory or defeat may cause the whole economy of the United States or even the world. Vital security installations such as electronic access to nuclear defense, space stations, airlines, and stock markets could become easy preys for terrorists if the conditions are present and state machineries fail to disrupt cyber operations.

It would be more costly than arming Al Qaeda with a single nuclear bomb as cyber terrorism could gain access to “all” bombs or disorient hospital databases of prescribed medications and cause more deaths than the anthrax. There are various ways which terrorists could make use of the cyber space in attacking installations and databases. Through the years of constant development in sensible convention in cyber capabilities, the potentialities of utilization of different applications had also evolved which made this threat more dangerous. As the technology advances, so does the horizon of terrorist point of entry in the system.

Modifications and destruction of information or simply hindering programs to function properly can be caused by computer viruses at different stages or relentlessness and “with its infection property, a virus can spread throughout a computer system or network using the authorization of every user to inflict his/her own programs. Every program that gets infected may in turn act as a virus and thus start an endless cycle” (Lin & Chang, 1989, p. 9). The presence of these viruses or more specifically network worms would undermine normal flow of information and caused disruptions in coordination among and between agencies of prime import.

By spontaneously or systematically incorporating network worms, internet users are also stirred to subliminally generate stressful conditions that if these conditions persist in greater scope and duration, panic could also be engendered on a electronically dependent populace. These attacks could also suppress the exchange of information of various local and global networks and its implications would include interference in transactions in the world’s economies, impede electronic banking systems, and cause the deterioration of the flow of information and would even collapse the integral mechanisms of news and information databases.

These impediments would result to disorientation in many parts of the world and provide the necessary preconditions for insurrectionary events emanating from mass instigations to take advantage of the virtual absence of state communication facilities in many crucial fields (Golubev, 2002).

“Logic bombs – sets of commands, which take root into the program and work under certain conditions (for example, after the certain interval of time)” and the “Trojans”, “allowing to execute the certain actions without the knowledge of the infected system’s owner,” are still some of the characteristics of cyber terrorism which purposefully embedded on cyber attacks to generate more destructive results (Golubev, 2002). More dangerously, cyber terrorism is harder to contain in a certain country or region as it is characteristic of the network to obtain transcontinental domain and boundaries would not really matter in any sense.

While nuclear, biochemical or radiologic weapons need more prerequisites to be able to find their way to a terrorist arsenal, only information is needed to be able to create offensive environments, illegal intrusions or sabotage of information sources. In addition to the difficulties in dealing with cyber criminals is the readily accessible mode of destroying every trace of the crime. Most significantly, the cyber world is also effectively used to propagate extremist, fundamentalist or radical ideologies that governments find hard to restraint.

Similarly, a view of an electronic jihad is presently imminent in core discussions that foresee terrorist attacks with a simultaneous, coordinated and well executed electronic assault of major stock markets at any given time whenever terrorists may find it appropriate. With this consideration, the United States National Infrastructure Advisory Council drafted a strategy to be able to effectively counter the advent of cyber terrorism.

On the NIAC National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, it was clearly distinguishable that the US government has seriously recognized that: The speed and anonymity of cyber attacks makes distinguishing among the actions of terrorists, criminals, and nation states difficult, a task which often occurs after the fact, if at all…the [report] helps reduce…vulnerability to debilitating attacks against…critical information infrastructures or the physical assets that support them. (viii)

One significant event has proven that indeed cyber terrorism is a clear and present danger especially for Western countries that are highly dependent on electronic and computer-controlled systems of operation. In Estonia, water treatment plants were shut down and disrupted the country’s banking system due to incomprehensible waves of signal from an unknown source. The attack came in without any warning and explanations were deprived to state authorities that even agencies were affected by the electronic fluctuations for three weeks (Amin, 2008).

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