About cyberterrorism

How do you define cyberterrorism?

The definition of cyberterrorism is since the 90s highly debated because it is not easy to define how devastating the damages of a computer attack are. However, according to many sources in the Internet, it appears that the definition of to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is the one accepted by many people. According to the FBI, cyberterrorism is any “premeditated, politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs, and data which results in violence against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.”.

Unlike virus or computer attack that results in a (distributed) denial of service, a cyberterrorist attack is designed to cause physical violence or extreme financial harm. Possible cyberterrorist targets include the banking industry, military installations, power plants, air traffic control centers, and water systems.

This definition is quite narrow because it compares cyberterrorism with traditional terrorism.

There are several other definitions which define it much more generally as any computer crime targeting computer networks without necessarily affecting real world infrastructure, property, or lives.



Do you think the threat of cyberterrorism is real?  Why or why not?

It all depends about which definition of Cyberterrorism are we talking about.

If we talk about the one of FBI, then this is only hypothetical since there are no known examples of such a devastation produced by such an act.

If we talk about the more broader definitions, then we have seen many examples of DDOS, attacks against various institutions (governmental or not), website defacements.



Where do you think the threat of cyberterrorism is based? 

The word “Cyber” in “cyberterrorism” says actually everything. A cyberterrorism is in the cybernetic space, in the Internet, so it can be anywhere in the world. It only needs an Internet connection.



What is the profile of a cyberterrorist?

Again, it depends on the definition of cyberterrorism.

It can be a group of people which tries to achieve its political goals by means of disrupting the computer systems but it can also be a disgruntled employee who seeks only revenge on the company or governement.


What would a cyberterrorist attack look like? What do you think the primary targets will be?

Again, it depends on the definition of cyberterrorism.


Our lives depend more and more on the inter-networks connections such as that between a institutions and banks, computer systems which control facilities important for us (electricity, water supply, etc), and convenience facilities such as mass-media,  and last but not least the Internet.

If any of these connections don’t function anymore we will experience from a discomfort (in case of mass-media, Internet)  to serious threats to our lives (in case of critical facilities).

In the more broader definition, the targets of cyberterrorism might suffer from the annoyance of a defacement, the temporary loss of business created by Denial of Service attacks, to serious business losses if servers are hacked and critical information is stolen.


What steps can be taken to prevent an act of cyberterrorism?

I don’t think that there is a golden rule or rule set which can prevent cyberterrorism.

As we have seen in the past, there is a very thin difference between the fear cause by the real terrorists and that caused by the law enforcement people which try to protect citizens against terrorists. It is very hard to keep the right balance.

In general, it is good to keep the eyes open, monitor any suspicious network activities and be prepared for the worse. However, the definition of “worse” can vary quite a lot: from a simple backup to extremely complex monitoring and spying systems.

Preventing cyberterrorism is *everyone’s* responsibility, including the home users.


© Copyright Sorin Mustaca, All rights Reserved. Written For: Sorin Mustaca on Cybersecurity

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About the Author

Sorin Mustaca
Sorin Mustaca, (ISC)2 CSSLP, CompTIA Security+ and Project+, is working since over 20 years in the IT Security industry and worked between 2003-2014 for Avira as Product Manager for the known products used by over 100 million users world-wide. Today he is CEO and owner of Endpoint Cybersecurity GmbH focusing on Cybersecurity, secure software development and security for IoT and Automotive. He is also running his personal blog Sorin Mustaca on Cybersecurity and is the author of the free eBook Improve your security .
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