Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation


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The destruction of websites, knowingly crashing selected networks, causing denial of service in crisis situations, spreading malicious computer viruses, causing physical destruction and tampering with financial interactions, all while inducing panic and causing psychological harm to targets, are all utilized methods commonly known as information warfare Paul This form of attack holds greater appeal than that of the conventional methods used in the past for many reasons. For example, the costs of such an attack greatly diminish when, all things considered, the equipment needed for such an attack does not go beyond that of a computer and an online connection rather than the traditional weapons of guns or bombs used in terror situations of the past Weimann Previous examples of traditional terrorist attacks carried out in real time required massive amounts of organized locations in which attackers utilized software such as robotic networks that globally hijack any number of targets and render them helpless Aaviksoo It is precisely this lack of physical presence in regard to a target that provides a foundation for the rationale behind why cyberterrorism is a preferred method.

A high level of anonymity comes with a lack of borders, barriers, and authority that leaves an attacker virtually without consequence to target anyone or anything across the globe Weimann This notion reflects the idea that crimes committed via computers are of a global nature in which unleashing worms and viruses that steal information are not limited on a small scale, but can occur between entire countries and nations when attackers are given free rein to commit crimes internationally, against individuals, corporations, and governments Cassell Western infrastructures have been a primary target; so have highly populated areas, which will remain primary venues that become susceptible to attacks Gunaratna Combined with the notion that cyberterrorism is both inexpensive and anonymous, as well as remote, an attacker is not forced into physically demanding high-risk situations; nor do they have to be as crafty to outwit security systems Weimann The rationale for the occurrence of cyberterrorism has included that of political motivation Baudrillard When emblematic western infrastructures such as banks, hotels, and utilities are considered, the sheer volume of targets becomes endless, causing the focus for an attacker to switch to a strategic nature, where the motivation for an attack is fueled by the amount of damage that can be done Gunaratna An appealing factor in the equation of cyberterrorism is that the attacks are conducted from a location removed from the target Weimann An attacker can handpick a target based on vulnerability in various areas of government, health, commerce, and utilities Brown Examples that fall under the assertion of causing damage from a remote location could be that of an attacker opening a dam and releasing flood waters, causing a nuclear power plant meltdown, or causing an oil pipeline to burst Brownlie Because these utilities are run on complex computer systems, there is a vulnerability that is easy for an attacker to penetrate and exploit Weimann For this reason, the shift from traditional methods of attack to the more modern form of cyberterrorism is appealing because physical demands are diminished, the risk of death decreases, and the amount of time contributed by an attacker has less of a psychological effect.

This, in turn, eases the burden for terror organizations to maintain the number of members dedicated to the cause Weimann Lastly, and most importantly, there is a media motivational aspect for attackers Weimann When each incident is covered with such depth by the media, an inflated sense of importance and meaning is attributed to each attack. Cyberterrorist acts can be carried out through the Internet, a public communication channel. Cyberterrorism is publicized and propagated via new media communication.

Consequently, it is fundamentally through semiotics and the exploitation of new media that cyberterrorists find success in achieving their chief goals. A sign is something that stands for something else or that can be created to represent something else Deely ; Peirce The Internet is a sign system; it is an astronomical assemblage of codes and images thanks to which users can construct meanings and symbols. Rather, what humans see are signs and symbols within a communication framework, whereby the communication of messages is deemed quintessential to the creation of meaning Fiske From this vantage point, meaning is not absolute; nor is it static.

Meaning is an active process subject to constant transformation Benford Now that there is a foundation for understanding exactly what cyberterrorism is and the scope—both concrete and symbolic—it encompasses, a focus on the communicative aspect is warranted. It is not enough to know that these attacks are occurring. One must seek to uncover not only the method of communication, but also the meaning behind the communication. As scholars who are not exactly certain of the exact motive behind the actions of an individual, we must examine overall behavior to tease out patterns and analyze the symbolic meaning behind those actions.

In doing so, an understanding of propaganda is needed to place symbolic meaning in context. Throughout the vast history of war, there have been many documented cases in which propaganda has been used as a catalyst for empowering terror organizations and providing them motivation for large-scale operations or attacks.

Terrorism in Cyberspace

By definition, propaganda is a mode of communication aiming at swaying the attitude of people toward some cause Bernays and Miller For example, propaganda ignited motivation during wartime to increase membership in the armed forces Lasswell Verton explains that. They use the Internet to collect intelligence on those targets, especially critical economic nodes, and modern software enables them to study structural weaknesses in facilities as well as predict the cascading failure effect of attacking certain systems p.

This Internet-based approach is considered postmodern, where the premise is that communication is directionless and leadership is not needed, nor does it exist Matusitz a , b. The Internet serves as the perfect medium for the trajectory of the modern terrorist: the cyberterrorist. While the tool the Internet has been indentified, previous research by Conway and Weimann shows that primary means of communication, intentional or otherwise, between cyberterrorist and their targets happen through a variety of employed propaganda.

As such, the formation of in-groups occurs, which allows for beliefs and expectations to form and laws to emerge that dictate how the enemy is portrayed.

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Once these perceptions of an enemy form, they add motivation behind an attack Keen Because the use of propaganda is so powerful, it is important to understand how these various types of propaganda are effective, exactly what types are available for use and what is the driving force behind that power. In regards to the question of power, Keen suggests that propagandist messages involve certain influential indicators that influence the subconscious psyche of a culture. To begin, it is essential to recognize the media as a strong and prominent outlet for terrorists to communicate propaganda Cowen Another prominent medium in which propaganda is used as a means of communication is through the Internet Hoffman A traditional method of terrorist communication previously employed was the use of video as a quick and effective method of relaying terrorist messages.

In addition to the main focus of the use of video being a cheap and easy means of distributing propaganda for their cause, a more aggressive and destructive utilization of propaganda using the computer and Internet is through virus spreading Weimann Propaganda that follows the traditional model instructs an attacker to spend time effectively gathering intelligence on specific targets as a way to ensure that the maximum amount of damage that could possibly occur actually comes to fruition in each incident Mathieu Certain tactics that are put into place start with extensive target analysis, intelligence gathering, and a network of command and control are considered necessities when attacking a target.

All of these are designed to utilize many different directions to assault a target Desouza and Hensgen The merging of traditional methods of attack with modern ones can be reflected in the way cyberterrorists pinpoint targets through the use of computers and by way of propaganda, recruitment, collection of data and information gathering, and member-to-member communication—through forums and videos via the Internet Weimann An even more in-depth scope of these computer-based activities includes message posting, launching campaigns of a psychological nature, gathering information on potential targets, allowing for the synchronization of agendas and actions, allotting funds to specific areas, and using videos to conduct virtual terror training Tzfati and Weimann Continuing on with the understanding of the role of the media in current terrorist operations, it has been recognized that the media can manipulate and form desired images in respect to the minds of the public Laqueur Such immense media coverage empowers terrorist organizations and provides motivation for continued attacks.

Publicity and media are considered a necessity in the world of cyberterrorism, outlining two of the primary themes in the motivation of the attackers. Jenkins proposes that. Taking and holding hostages increases the drama. The hostages themselves often mean nothing to the terrorists. Terrorism is aimed at the people watching, not at the actual victims. Terrorism is a theater p. With the suggestion of the motives of terrorism rooted in theatrics, it is akin to suggesting that to be recognized in a highly visible and memorable way is the purpose for the attack, qualities that are often attributed to media coverage Cowen Terrorist messages such as these are clearly heard worldwide due to well-developed and well-dispersed media contacts Kim et al.

Similarly, Internet sites produce numerous opportunities for in-group communication and publicity, documenting a trend that encapsulates cause for organizations Arquilla and Ronfeldt a , b ; Arquilla, Ronfeldt and Zanini The US State Department generated a list of terrorist organizations that confirmed that at least half of the known listed organizations have websites that are used for the solicitation of money and membership as well as a way for coded messages to make its way among group members Gordon and Ford Internet provides the luxury of nonphysical contact with another member of the group where new recruits can become affiliated and commit to carrying out terrorist attacks, never actually leaving the comfort of home.

In short, the use of propaganda has become the standard norm among terror groups Harmon Terrorist organizations require backing from supporters in the areas of both recruiting for membership and funding in order to continue to operate. Traditional propaganda techniques such as leaflets and publications in newspapers have now been replaced by the use of websites for financial backing and membership recruiting Wright These leaflets and newspapers are truly an artifact of the past with the United States Department of State reported as early as , that over one-third of the known Foreign Terrorist Organization FTOs had their own website McGirk Cyberterrorist organizations also feature disappearing and reappearing message boards and websites Weimann One attacker, playing cat-and-mouse games with authorities through his websites, known as Irhabi, emerged over the Internet as a leader of an online terrorist organization.

His signature included online videos with instructions for home-made car bombs, and he also led forums criticizing American foreign policy, only to take them down and repost or list them under a different domain name Fulghum Ultimately causing violent methods of destruction, Internet messages communicated between those cyberterrorist groups display consistent themes ranging from hate to anger Talbot Attackers need a starting place.

In order to inflict the most damage possible, an attacker needs to research various potential for damage in the process of building a target profile Mathieu In order to utilize the Internet to its fullest extent, cyberterrorists can access a multitude of international areas and databases that contain sensitive information, such as libraries.

Starting with access to legally obtained information, through legitimate search engines such as Google, attackers can gather information in the form of maps, satellite images, uploaded pictures and videos, and other texts available in seemingly harmless and innocent ways available in a public domain Paul Browsing the Internet to gain information allows attackers to start building profiles against targets using simple resources that are also very much legal.

Once the information-gathering process on a target has been completed and is recorded, an attacker can then use the Internet as a channel for carrying out the attack. The Internet, by way of computers, is the main tool available for assailants to coordinate and communicate on the method of attack Paul Encryption programs can be implemented to cover any harmful wrongdoing that could potentially be exposed throughout the course of the operation and, as this is being done, a system of hidden messages can be put into place Paul Many of these messages range content-wise going so far to include instructions, step-by-step illustrated renderings of how an attack should be carried out, and detailed communicated plans enclosed in a secure network that requires a designated password to access.

US Military computers have shown evidence of being a popular and frequent target by attackers. In , cyberterrorists cracked into computers used by the Pentagon, using these methods of attack, and downloaded technical materials sensitive in nature Lenzner and Vardi After a federal investigation, the source of the attacks proved to be a Moscow-based series of dial-up connections. The investigation, dubbed Moonlight Maze, was ineffective in catching the attackers. The success of the terrorist group is directly correlated with keeping membership levels at a maximum, and as such, multiple methods of recruiting new members are a major focal point in the propaganda-based messages that are employed Liu In past efforts to increase membership among groups, traditional methods of recruitment, such as published written work, audio—video tapes, CDs, and even local prayer leaders, have been employed as a means of promoting the cause Paul The Internet, an updated and modern element of global terrorism, is emerging with websites and electronic forums that are used to spread ideological messages and provide hyperlinks between current operatives in cyberspace in addition to sharing graphic images depicting previous successes as a call to action for potential new members Cronin In some instances, donations from sponsors or patrons are requested for those who wish to be supportive without being directly involved Cronin The content of the websites offer a lesson on the history of the organization, and the cause the organization supports with the intent of enticing new members to join Paul These websites also provide a venue for cyberterrorists to plan attacks by using a variety of methods that could not be achieved through other means.


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The use of video provides another powerful arena utilized by terrorists. Video has been a vital part in the process of propaganda that is cheap and globally accessible Weimann Films depicting anything from the morale-boosting success of radical fighters to the more macabre and disconcerting videos of executions, ambushes, and roadside bombings have emerged at a steady and continuous pace, being systematically distributed across the world Kohlmann The main difference in film distribution, to compare past methods to present day, is that in previous years, the videos, produced and distributed in traceable brick-and-mortar establishments, allowed for easy identification and easy prosecution of offenders, whereas present-day operations are postmodern and join Internet access with software designed for video editing and virtually untraceable upload capabilities Kohlmann In addition to easy access and virtual inability to be traced back to any one criminal, an appeal for the use of propaganda lies heavily in the ability to induce fear on a grand scale, affecting a multitude of people.

Participants who were exposed to clips of terrorism and threats to national security developed higher anxiety than those who were not exposed to such clips, according to one study Slone Perfidy or betrayal is an applicable outcome to the use of videos that rely on deceitful methods because of a reliance on outcomes that are psychologically damaging, allowing for a tactical advantage to be achieved Dinstein Damaging and deceitful perfidy could be explained in a more detailed manner in regard to video, when the false construction or the blatant alteration of images or recordings occurs specifically to make a false claim against a party Army Field Manual By extension, videos communicate a message to members of an organization and are used for purposes of displaying examples of previous successful attacks on a grand scale.

Another example of the deceitful nature in the form of damaging messages communicated through video comes to light when a multitude of videos are altered to express meaning that had not been originally intended Slone Documented cases have exhibited modified and forged footage, such as falsely spliced voice recordings that depict an enemy head of state issuing orders for war crimes, or digitally altered state uniforms that have been changed to resemble enemy attire Shulman Tactics such as these create consequences that are short term and steeped in deceit of a political nature.

The consequences that occur long term—that of increased fatalities, extended periods of war, and schisms in the restoration of peace—destroy any foundation of peace that have been gained previously Army Field Manual To date, evidence suggests that through means of technology—video, internet, and media coverage—messages through propaganda are worthy of mention because of the implications they carry from a communicative perspective. It has been suggested that restricted media coverage of terrorist attacks would in turn decrease the amount of terrorist attacks that occur afterward because a primary communicative intent—media coverage and recognition—was not being met Cowen If this is the case, an interesting perspective to look for in the data would be the ties that connect the media, propaganda, and the communicative messages that are being conveyed.

This section provides a semiotic analysis of a case study of cyberterrorist propaganda and gives an explanation as to how the cyberterrorist act works both as a symbol and as terrorism. This organization is a Middle-Eastern alliance of 12 cyberterrorist groups strongly opposed to the Indian presence in Kashmir and the occupation of Palestine by Israel.

They have been reported in the news for wreaking havoc on websites Aparna, Bolli and Bock Long Live Palestine! At the bottom of the website, they incorporated a message with the signature of the group Verton Put simply, their misdeed constitutes a semiotic act encapsulated in messages and a horrific photo.

By gaining such visibility, terrorists are now able to proliferate terror in cyberspace and evoke fear.

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While militant Palestinians blow up Israeli buildings, they can also use the Internet to cause harm to their enemies. This very attack was carried out by Palestinians sympathetic to their particular cause. Fear was generated and destruction was caused out of a political intent.

It is fundamentally through semiotics and the exploitation of new media that the World Fantabulous Defacers found success in spreading propaganda. Semiotics is a tool to decode signs, their meanings and associations, and their evolution. The evolution, in this case study, is translated in a shift from traditional propaganda to e-propaganda Karagiannis and Wagner Mandaville identifies a significant relationship between the Internet and Islamism. He points to the digitalization of Islamic terrorism.

The Internet, it seems, has become an inseparable tool of Islamism. On the bright side, semiotics can also be an efficient tool for scholars and experts to detect and defeat cyber threats Desouza and Hensgen What this analysis has demonstrated is that cyberterrorists exploit diverse semiotic gestures, through the use of images and Internet videos, to communicate their intents to the public at large. In doing so, cyberterrorists communicate themes that range from hate to anger.

From this vantage point, cyberterrorism is a form of theater or spectacle in which terrorists benefit from the endless opportunities that cyberspace offers to generate feelings of panic and overreaction in the target population. Cyberterrorism is a semiotic act; be it a message, a symbol, or an image on a website. Our computer-based universe is wrapped up with images, signs, and symbols. Truly, there is a powerful semiotic dimension to cyberterrorism. So, through propagandist gestures and the use of various symbolic systems, cyberterrorists are capable of communicating their intents.

The intent is to utilize any output necessary to play upon the fears to the public and by association, enhancing the power cyberterrorists wield. More specifically, this output is represented in coverage by the media generating increased attention and heightening the theatrical element behind each attack. Our society is wrapped up with images, signs, and symbols.

Given this, there is a powerful semiotic dimension to cyberterrorism. Without a doubt, it can involve sending images of fear. It is essentially by means of semiotics and the utilization of new media that WFD managed to successfully spread their propagandist messages. The creators of the video had one goal in mind: to instill feelings of panic in viewers, through powerful images Kohlmann Also demonstrated is a carefully crafted network of Internet savvy members of cyberterrorist organizations who communicate power and status through online video clips, websites, and through methods of destruction ranging from the malicious denial of service to the irreparably devastating death.

Terrorism in Cyberspace: The next generation

The motives of cyberterrorists are the same as those of conventional terrorists: to send images of fear. In the same way that terrorism is, first and foremost, a process of communication between terrorists and target audiences Tuman , a key objective of cyberterrorists is as old as the one by conventional terrorists: to send a powerful signal whose meaning is intended to frighten and to coerce. The interesting notion, as mentioned before with the cat-and-mouse nature of Islamist cyberterrorist Irhabi Kohlmann , is that these terrorist websites are frequently put up and taken down so they can cause their damage and still be maintained for another day.

The general scope for the use of websites is so vast that they provide a forum, or a safe haven for any level of content that a cyberterrorist feels is necessary to air to keep motivation for the cause intact, for reasons of member recruitment or to raise funds from supporters. While the primary goal of terrorism is a process of communication between terrorists and target audiences Tuman , cyberterrorism also seeks to send a powerful signal meant to frighten and coerce the target. This analysis detailed the various motivations behind small- and large-scale targets and the emotional aspects of fear for safety and lack of faith in the government that accrues from being targeted.

For future research, it might prove interesting to continue investigating the relationship between cyberterrorism and new media i. Without the existence of these, cyberterrorism is doomed to failure. In fact, scholars should examine the two following questions: How different would cyberterrorism be without semiotics? And what would cyberterrorism be without Internet-facilitated propaganda? The use of communication technologies by cyberterrorists is an essential requirement for the success of their propagandist and semiotic gestures.

In order to cause massive overreaction from the public, cyberterrorists rely on those new media to agitate the target population by exploiting images that, once produced, can be exploited again later and be re-used to new effect. As we can see, cyberterrorism represents a mighty tool of communication, persuasion, and propaganda.

Since billions of human beings are becoming increasingly interconnected through computers and the Internet, cyberspace creates both benefits and disadvantages for human communities. The danger of cyberterrorism is real; though it has been underestimated by many, it can add a great deal to our anxieties. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author s and the source are credited. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.

Poiesis Prax. Published online Aug 9. Elizabeth Minei and Jonathan Matusitz. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Corresponding author. Abstract This paper analyzes the role of propaganda use in cyberterrorism. Introduction In this paper, the role of propaganda use in cyberterrorism is being analyzed.

General perspectives on cyberterrorism This section describes cyberterrorism, the origin of the word and the various forms and techniques used by cyber attackers. Cyberterrorism: definition In order to understand the full scope of how destructive and powerful cyberterrorism can be, it is important to gain a basic understanding of the actual word.

Terrorism in Cyberspace is an edge-of-your-seat monograph, well worth the read for those who use or are concerned about the digital world and how terrorism is propagated through computers and technology.

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Gabriel Weimann is not a novice when it comes to writing about terrorists using the cyber domain to conduct operations and other nefarious acts. He wrote Terror on the Internet in , which set the stage for this book; here he digs even deeper into what terrorists are doing to recruit, pass information back and forth among different cells, radicalize lone wolves, and get their propaganda out to the masses quickly and seemingly very effectively.

This is an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand volume, yet it remains intellectually stimulating. The subject matter is of such a popular nature it should resonate among all ages and backgrounds. In the first section, Weimann goes in-depth into how terrorism in the cyber domain actually began decades ago when there were merely a dozen or so websites terrorists used to pass information or recruit new terrorists to the fold.

This number grew to 2, websites by —and to an astonishing 9, websites by p. Furthermore, the number continues growing at an extremely fast rate. He also outlines eight main terrorist-related uses of the Internet: psychological warfare, propaganda, online indoctrination, recruitment and mobilization, data mining, virtual training, cyber planning and coordination, and fund-raising p.

Connectivity is a huge driver in the growth of cyberspace terrorism. In the Middle East alone, online connectivity grew at a whopping 2, percent between and p. In Pakistan alone the growth was an astonishing 15, percent. Al-Qaeda is one of the biggest users of the Internet and actually began an online presence in Terrorists have exploited the Web 2.

The emerging trend now is for people who read and buy into the rhetoric to take matters into their own hands. The second section delves into emerging trends within cyberterrorism. These individuals are most likely radicalized through the Internet and then receive the backing and courage to follow through with these heinous acts from terrorists all over the world. Terrorists are also conducting niche marketing techniques to target certain groups or demographics.

Cyberterrorism is emerging at an astronomical rate, and looking at future projections, it is not expected to subside any time soon. Unfortunately there is not a crystal ball to forecast where, what, and how they will attack, but countering online terrorism is becoming more important for everyone, including governments, private organizations, and businesses as well as citizens trying to protect themselves and their families.

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Even though the terrorists get smarter, so do the advocates trying to thwart terrorism. Despite counterterrorism measures, the terrorists remain bound and determined to conduct reprehensible acts using the Internet as their catalyst. According to Weimann, this is true because via cyberterrorism, minimal resources are required to make things happen, using the computer offers anonymity, and attacks can be conducted remotely.

Also, networks all over the world have many vulnerabilities and the scope of damage from a computer attack can be enormous p. Noise is defined as physical, semantic, cultural, or psychological, and some or all can have serious repercussions to a terrorist trying to conduct an attack. The book goes into detail about how to use noise as a favorable counterterrorism measure.

Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation
Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation
Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation
Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation
Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation
Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation
Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation Terrorism in cyberspace : the next generation

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