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18 Jan

Cyber Security - Insights into global terrorism and cyber warfare

Cyberwar is increasingly becoming an important strategy for the perpetrators of global terrorism. The Congressional Research Service defines cyberterrorism as, "the premeditated use of disruptive activities, or the threat thereof, against computers and/or networks, with the intention to cause harm or to further social, ideological, religious, political, or similar objectives, or to intimidate any person in furtherance of such objectives." A whole host of activities can reside under that definition.

For instance, cyber terrorists would like to bring down electrical infrastructure, in effect causing power blackouts. Bloomberg recently noted a United States Department of Energy study that warned that the electricity grid is becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks. If a terrorist group were to succeed in bringing down the United States electrical grid, it would have wreaked incalculable damage to the American economy, causing widespread death and mayhem.

The recent WannaCry ransomware attack illustrates another cyberterrorism danger. A group with suspected ties to North Korea launched such an attack that locked up the data for hundreds of thousands of computer systems in 150 countries, holding the files as hostage unless the owners paid in bitcoin, though often even if payment was made the records were destroyed anyway.

On a cruder level, terrorists can use social networks to inspire jihadis in western countries to commit "lone wolf attacks." People who have never been to a Muslim country or have had direct contact with terrorist groups can be inspired to commit mass casualty attacks. Also, as a recent article in Wired reported, ISIS has become adroit at using social media to promote its brand, boasting of atrocities committed by its members.

The growing cyber-terrorism threat calls for renewed efforts to not only defend against cyberattacks, but to counter terrorist social media propaganda and, ultimately, to go on the offensive to bring down terrorist computer networks.

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