In the first instance an attack of this nature usually serves a symbolic purpose from the terrorist's point-of-view in that he or she is seen to be attacking the bastion of global Western commerce. Secondly, many business concerns are more vulnerable to attack as they are usually not as heavily secured as military or energy installations. There is also the factor that American financial institutions are invariably identified with the international polices and political stances of the U.S. government, making them a prime target for terrorists and radical groups. (Kirkpatrick, 1983, p. 94)
American multinational Corporations (MNCs) in particular are an increasing focus of terrorist attention. As Harvey (1993) states, "If the trends of the past are any indication of the future strategies of terrorists, United States MNCs will continue to be their primary targets" (Harvey, 1993 p. 465). In this regard studies have found that financial and commercial institutions are extremely sensitive to perceptions and misinformation. Even a token terrorist intrusion or attack on these institutions can have a ripple effect and result in a loss of confidence in the economy of the country.
Terrorists therefore can also attack commercial entities by sowing doubt and false information on the Internet - which illustrates the vulnerability of commerce to terrorist intrusion. Bayles (2001) states that, "...the prices on a stock exchange and the values of the underlying currency fluctuate with confidence in the currency and banking system. This sensitivity makes a financial system an ideal target for attacks to undermine that confidence" (Bayles, 2001, p. 44). Furthermore a loss of confidence can reduce the value of a currency and can result in inflation and unemployment.
Computer systems and cyber attack
Commercial and business concerns are also heavily dependent on computers and the Internet in the contemporary environment. Brenner (2007) defines cyber terrorism as the process of "...using computer technology to engage in terrorist activity" (Brenner, 2007. p 379). Computers have been known to be a very vulnerable target to hackers, and are also extremely vulnerable to attack by terrorists with the aim of disrupting and even destroying normal commercial and intelligence activities. As Bayles (2001) states, "Financial Targets Like military command and control computers, computer networks that run a nation's economy present tempting targets for a well-developed cyber attack" (Bayles, 2001, p. 44).
Many studies of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda show that they have a predilection for using the Internet. As Timothy L. Thomas (2003) states in Al Qaeda and the Internet: The Danger of "Cyberplanning"; "We can say with some certainty, al Qaeda loves the Internet" (Thomas, 2003, p. 112). In other words there is an increase in the use made of the Internet by terrorists to attack vulnerable targets in cyberspace. Something of the importance of cyber terrorism is captured in the following quotation.
Cyber-terrorism has been described as the crime of the future involving the usage of crime and computers. It threatens the safety of millions of people across the globe; especially the vulnerability of military computer networks to casual hackers. Indeed, this form of terrorism could be more devastating than biological or chemical warfare. (Thackrah, 2004, p. 61)
In the light of this view therefore computer systems and networks are an extremely vulnerable and inviting target for the contemporary and technologically savvy terrorist.
Computers are vulnerable in a number of different ways that can be used by the terrorist. Viruses may be introduced into the computer system which can destroy essential data, which in turn can impact the maintenance of infrastructure and other essential factors. Furthermore, cyber-terrorist can remotely access the processing control systems of any business.
Computerised bombs can be placed on an industrial complex especially a chemical or petroleum site.
Banks, international financial transactions and stock exchanges can be targeted resulting in a loss of confidence in the economic system.
Transport control systems can be attacked causing accidents to occur. Gas and electricity supplies can be disrupted. Our day-to-day existence can be disrupted by such terrorists.
(Thackrah, 2004, p. 27)
2.5 Chemical plants
While chemical plants should be categorized under business and industry, they merit special mention as they are one of the most vulnerable and dangerous of terrorist targets. This can be seen by the fact that the Department of Homeland Security has issued warnings of potential attacks on chemical facilities. (Beebe, 2006. p. 239) This has been followed by a statement which underlines the importance and vulnerability of these plants.
A the risk of terrorists attempting in the foreseeable future to cause an industrial chemical release is both real and credible" (Beebe, 2006. p. 239).
There are two main areas of concern with regard to these plants. The first is that there may be a physical attack on the plants. The second is that terrorists may gain access to the chemicals, which can then be used for further and more devastating purposes.
If such an attack took place the consequences could be horrendous. In a 1998 report it was estimated that "....41 million Americans live in "vulnerable zones" or geographic areas that could be seriously affected by the worst possible accident at a chemical production or storage facility..." (Beebe, 2006, p. 239). It is also of concern that many toxic chemicals have a wide ranging effect, which can extend to more than twenty miles beyond the center of the attack.
The assessment and identification of vulnerable terrorist targets within the United States has to take into account the methods and the intention of modern terrorism. The literature on this subject tends to indicate that there has been a shift in contemporary terrorism towards the targeting of more sensitive sectors of a society than would have been the case in the past. This has meant that the identification of vulnerabilities has tended towards "softer" targets, such as schools and public places. Some pundits predict that future terrorist attacks will focus on the "easy" targets that will result in media exposure and publicity for the terrorist cause.
A central aspect of modern terrorism that has to be taken into account is the increased technological sophistication. This aspect has provided the modern terrorist with new capabilities and access to more targets. This in turn has meant that computer and cyber terrorism has become a new frontline in the battle against terrorism. The vulnerabilities that exist in all computer systems and networks can be exploited by the terrorist remotely and can have devastatingly negative impact on a society and its infrastructure.
In the final analysis, the increase in potential "soft targets' means that extreme vigilance and information gathering has to be maintained in order to prevent any such attack. Part of the solution to the problems that terrorism pose is an awareness of the threat and an understanding of the potential targets that may be the focus of any terrorist attack.
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