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Cyber Terrorism


The word ‘Cyber Terrorism’ refers to two elements: cyberspace and terrorism. Thus Cyber Terrorism could be defined as the premeditated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs and data which result in violence against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.

This definition is necessarily narrow and it would be essential to differentiate it from other kinds of computer abuse such as computer crime, economic espionage, or information warfare. Of these, Information warfare could be termed as a defensive and offensive function of the Government and the Armed Forces.

The traditional tools of terrorism: explosives, bullets and especially nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are dangerous not only to the terrorist’s target but also to the terrorist himself. The Internet opens a new vista for attack.

Cyber Terrorism will occur where we are most vulnerable: where we are reliant and dependent on systems that exist at the convergence of the physical and the virtual worlds. Where cracking means more than changing a web page; it means damage, injury and potential lethality.

For a terrorist, it would have some advantages over physical methods. It could be conducted remotely and anonymously, it would be cheap, and it would not require the handling of explosives or a suicide mission. It would likely garner extensive media coverage, as journalists and the public alike are fascinated by practically any kind of computer attack. One highly acclaimed study of the risks of computer systems began with a paragraph that concludes "Tomorrow's terrorist may be able to do more with a keyboard than with a bomb."

The Internet acts as a force-multiplier, enhancing power and enabling extremists to punch above their weight. They can now have a reach and influence that was previously reserved for well-organized, state-funded terrorist organizations. Communication technology represents, in many respects, the ‘death of distance’ and the national borders that once separated the attackers from their targets have ceased to exist. Even the smallest groups are aware of the powers of the force-multiplier effect.

There are a number of examples of organized criminal or potential terrorist activities that have been noticed in the Cyber world in the last couple of years. The examples primarily pertain to the Kosovo conflict, human rights in China, support for the Mexican Zapatistas, and other areas of conflict as also the USA. The examples are by no means exhaustive of all activity in any of these areas, but intended only to be illustrative. Nevertheless, they represent a wide range of players, targets, and geographical regions.

Terrorist groups are known to share information and to collaborate with one another through cyberspace. Since such collaboration is inherently risky, and inter-group communication is a target for national security services, the use of encryption has increasingly been adopted. Encryption might be used both to 'anonymize' and to authenticate communications. The digital basis of cyberspace communication makes it an ideal vehicle for encrypted communication.

Having seen some of the specific Computer applications that are likely to come up in the near future and some examples of Cyber crimes, we would now be in a better position to understand some of the potential threats that a Cyber Terrorist poses to these systems. At the same time due to effective integration with other networks and processes across the country it is altogether likely that an act of Cyber Terrorism on a different network would adversely affect our own network. It has been attempted to develop one such likely scenario that may become a reality in years to come.

While some futurologists warn of an electronic Pearl Harbor, the reality is that terrorists have not yet resorted to strategic information warfare. What is apparent, however, is that warfare is shifting towards attacking civilian targets and that sub-state terrorists and other extremists are increasingly targeting civilian infrastructures. Increasingly, the perpetrators and the Internet victims of net war will be from the civilian sphere. It is therefore the civilian infrastructure, which is the most vulnerable; the military can protect its own infrastructure, despite media reports that it is constantly hacked into and is so vulnerable.

Governments are becoming increasingly concerned to protect their own national infrastructures, but global connectivity has grown to such an extent that it is now possible to talk only of a global informational infrastructure. This throws up greater challenges of putting in place trans-national laws to tackle trans-national crimes.

Number of Words: 9,000
Number of Pages: approx. 40
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