Cyber Terrorism and Communication in Terrorism Term Paper

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Cyber Terrorism

Terrorism has become the most heatedly discussed and debated subject in social and political circles. In fact these days, this one issue has been dominating all other national and international problems. This is because on the one hand, we have just been witness to world's worst and probably the most sophisticated terrorist acts when airplanes were used as missiles to hit the two most powerful buildings in the United States and on the other hand, terrorism is spreading so fast that there appears to be no suitable and permanent solution to this problem.

Terrorism has turned into a national issue because on the one hand it is becoming more effective and lethal and on the other terrorists are now adopting newer and better tactics to meet their goals and objectives. After September 11, "President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and senior administration officials have alerted the public not only to the dangers of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons but also to the further menace of cyber terrorism. "Terrorists can sit at one computer connected to one network and can create worldwide havoc," warned Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge in a representative observation last April. "[They] don't necessarily need a bomb or explosives to cripple a sector of the economy, or shut down a power grid." (Green, 2002)

Let us first understand what terrorism really is. Terrorism is a violence, which has been carefully planned, and it is usually pre-meditated. It is known that unlike random acts of violence, terrorism is always planned in order to extract maximum benefits.

The United States Federal Government defines terrorism as:

The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. The term "international terrorism" means terrorism involving citizens or the territory of more than one country. The term "terrorist group" means any group practicing, or that has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism." (

Terrorism is an act of violence, which is directed against a particular individual or an entire nation. The problem with terrorism in its new form is that it has become much more sophisticated than we had previously anticipated. With the ever increasing power of the Internet and various networking systems and advancement in communication technologies, terrorism has been expanded its reach and is now always one step ahead of the intelligence agencies.

Even before the September 11 attacks, intelligence agencies had alerted the nation of the imminent danger from a new breed of terrorist known as cyber-terrorists. President Bush warned the nation that, "American forces ale overused and under funded precisely when they are confronted by a host of new threats and challenges -- the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the rise of cyber terrorism, the proliferation of missile technology." Cyber terrorism in simpler words is terrorism carried out with technologically advanced means where networks play an important role as terrorist illegal gain access to confidential information. This breed of terrorists is certainly more menacing than the ones we had hitherto been trying to root out. Cyber terrorism is dangerous because catching the criminal is a daunting task and because access to sensitive data can wreak havoc as once a person enters a database, it takes a while to detect intrusion and takes even longer to block access. During this time, the cyber terrorist, commonly known as hacker can easily get access information to desired information.


Cyber terrorism crime and hacking have become perpetual threats to national security and economy. They exist in so many different forms that it is difficult to place them under one specific category. However the one thing common in all such crimes is use of computer, which acts as a shield between the criminal and victim thus protecting the former from immediate detection for possible arrest or prosecution. This shield is the very reason cyber-terrorism is expected to rise enormously in coming few years. Heather Maher reports a rapid increase in cyber crimes, "As computer prices have dropped, computer ownership has soared, and with it, computer crime. Lurking on your local server are hackers (the FBI says 30% of businesses, universities and institutions have been hacked), cyber-stalkers, e-mail terrorists, traffickers in child pornography, pedophiles, drug dealers and credit card thieves." Computer criminals can do serious damage to the target victim either financially, emotionally and sometimes even physically. Thus their presence is a perpetual threat which needs to be effectively controlled and stemmed, something which cannot be achieved without governmental intervention.

While cyber terrorism is a new relatively new term, computer crimes are however not a new phenomenon, hackers have been attacking innocent clueless victims since 1970s but because of less frequent use of computer and absence of Internet, these crimes were limited in number, scope and impact. But this type of crime came to the limelight in 1983 when first serious attack was reported: Ronald B. Standler writes, "In the 1970s and early 1980s, a common reaction was that hackers were a minor nuisance, like teenagers throwing rolls of toilet paper into trees. Then, in August 1983, a group of young hackers in Milwaukee hacked into a computer at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute in New York City. That computer stored records of cancer patients' radiation treatment. Altering files on that computer could have killed patients, which reminded everyone that hacking was a serious problem. This 1983 incident was cited by the U.S. Congress in the legislative history of a federal computer crime statute." S. Rep. 99-432 (1986) reprinted in 1986 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2479, 2480.

With communication technologies have increased and Internet becoming more a necessity than a luxury, almost every single person and now our entire nation is vulnerable to cyber terrorism. Deutch (1997) writes: "It is all too easy technically to penetrate the telecommunications and computer systems of nations and private organizations and to introduce "foreign" computer codes that will cause systems to go haywire or to fall under the control of the intruder. Such cyber terrorists could not only divert funds electronically from banks but also could create havoc with a nation's air traffic or power plant control systems. Likewise, they could introduce "morphed" images and messages into a country's radio and television systems, spreading lies and inciting people to violence." The moment you place your credit card information online, there is a possibility that some hacker would intercept that information and use it illegally to cause you great financial damage. Even with many laws and statues protecting victims against computer crimes and violation of intellectual property, computer crime is rapidly increasing. Just like this, every single piece of information on the Internet is vulnerable to terrorist attacks and imagine the havoc it would cause if a hacker managed to enter a government site containing confidential and sensitive information.

Peter Chalk (2000) writes:

America's concern with this mode of violence is growing for three reasons. First, terrorist attacks have become more lethal and effective during the 1990s, and the number of casualties and fatalities per incident is greater than at any other time in the past. Second, the growing sophistication of modern industrial society has created a slew of cyber-based information systems that are conceivably flexible enough to provide an alternative medium of conflict for those wishing to engage in critical attacks on the infrastructure. Third, the increased incidence and severity of terrorist events within the United States has radically altered Washington's perception of the threat, which has historically been focused on risks to American nationals and facilities abroad."

Before you can develop the latest anti-hacking software, some hacker in some obscure corner of the world has come up with five different ways to bypass that software. In other words, cyber criminals today are cleverer and better equipped with latest technology. Thus they are always one step ahead of the government or law enforcement. BOB TEDESCHI (2003) reports, "The number of successful, and verifiable, worldwide hacker incidents for the month of January is likely to surpass 20,000 - above the previous record of 16,000 in October, as counted by mi2g, a computer security firm based in London... "Criminal activity on the Internet is growing - not steadily, but exponentially, both in frequency and complexity," said Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, an information management group and consultancy. "Criminals are getting smarter and figuring out ways to beat the system."

Because of expected growth of cyber terrorist, government is highly concerned about the possible impact of cyber terrorism against the United States. The government has taken some effective measures to curb the possibility of cyber attacks against important sites, but we need to understand that cyber terrorism cannot be controlled without some concrete measures involving serious planning and intelligence action. Apart from attacking important sites, cyber terrorists can target various commercial sites to cause immense damage of the U.S. economy. The terrorists understand that they any nation can be attacked in two important ways, i.e. either by causing it human damage or simply by targeting its…[continue]

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