Since its invention, the computer has been integrated in almost all areas of our lives. This includes infrastructure systems like financial systems, communication systems, defensive systems in the military, supply of services like water and electricity, traffic control, security systems among many others. A threat that the United States and other countries in the world face is the potential attack of these computer supported infrastructure systems through cyber crime. Cyber terrorism can be simply understood as terrorism carried out through cyber space. In this regard, cyber terrorism aims to attack critical infrastructure systems in order to blackmail, coerce the government, institutions or people and or cause physical damage, deaths and fear. One thing that is important to consider is whether our infrastructure systems are safe and understanding the danger posed to these infrastructure systems through cyber terrorism. (McQuade, 2006)
Our current communication network has grown and developed to employ technology that uses routers, copper wires, optical fibers, satellites, computers, soft wares and other components to create a global communication system. This internet network is accessible to almost any one and although it is used by other infrastructure systems in our country it is greatly vulnerable to attacks. The only communication systems that are safer are classified communication systems used by some departments of the government. (Layland, 2006, p.35)
Among the various forms of cyber crime that exists is that carried out by computer hackers. In most cases, these do not have an ability and capacity to cause damage to major infrastructure systems. Most computer hackers carry out their activities to gain fame and recognition. These hackers however pose a possibility of causing havoc for example if they are provided with resources and paid by terrorist groups to attack infrastructure. (Kuchta, 2001, p.28)
A form of cyber crime that has of lately been of great concern to the United States and other powerful nations is national cyber attacks. These are attacks on computer networks and computer systems carried out by other nations. Their aim may be to spy on confidential information including stealing technology, crippling the ability of the targeted nation to carry out attacks in times of warfare and attacking major infrastructure systems. We have seen the United States government invest billions of dollars in building protective systems against cyber attacks which would protect our infrastructure in cases of attacks. The Chinese have especially been displayed as invincible and capable of destroying our computer-supported infrastructure our media and government. (Layland, 2006, p.36)
Although we have not seen terrorist groups like Al Qaeda carry out terrorist attacks backed by cyber warfare, it is almost obvious that they will be trying this approach in the future due to the devastating damage that could result. Research done so far has shown that these terrorist groups do not currently have the necessary recourses and a capacity to launch these kinds of attacks. One thing that we however know is that this group can adapt to changing global environments very fast, it will therefore not be a surprise to see these terrorist groups attempt to cripple infrastructure systems causing damage, fear and deaths as a result. One important resource that these groups possess may include a great financial base that they can use to buy great computer minds and establish networks that are a haphazard to our infrastructure. (Smith, 2004, p.53)
The various forms of cyber crime described above and others can be classified as cyber terrorism when they integrate terrorism (attacks aimed at causing fear, damage to infrastructure and people and deaths) with computer systems and networks. These attacks may purely attack our infrastructure by interfering with computer networks and computer infrastructure support systems. This has a potential of causing physical damage to people when normal services like transport or provision of electricity are interfered with. (Office of Management and Budget, 2003)
These attacks may moreover be very elaborate and well planned integrating both cyber terrorism and traditional methods of terrorism like the use of explosives to cause havoc. To understand this, let us consider a cyber attack against a dam control software that controls the closing and opening of dams in a specific location for supply of water. This may permanently shut dams cutting off water supply to this area. When this attack is combined with fire explosion of buildings, it could be very devastating since the concerned firefighters will lack water required to put out the fires. (Layland, 2006, p.37)
It is debatable whether cyber attacks against important infrastructure in the United States can actually cripple this infrastructure. This is because when people are threatened, they can harness determination to build new systems that would serve their needs. This kind of determination was seen during the Second World War from Germans. Although their major infrastructure systems like weaponry manufacturing industries and physical transport networks were greatly destroyed by the allies, aerial bombings, they rebuilt these networks at a very fast rate that surpassed the allies expectations. (Smith, 2004, p.53)
Great determination and creativity can likewise save our current infrastructure systems in case they are attacked. On the other hand, for any cyber attack against critical infrastructure in or country to be successful, it needs to be sustained adaptive and creative too. Although most cyber attacks do not directly or find it difficult to directly attack our government, sustained attacks against institutions and citizens has the effect of affecting our economy and national security weakening the government in the process. (Nearon, 2005, p.33)
So far, cyber terrorism targeting financial systems are perceived to be the most dangerous. They can be easily launched too. Consider the love bug virus for example. All it took was for an undergraduate University student to introduce this virus in a cyber café comfort. Tens of billions of dollars were lost as a result of this virus. Since they have the largest network than any other and are highly vigorous, financial networks are the easiest to attack. The only advantage that the United States and other major economies may be having is that the global economy is so intertwined that no single country can do without the other. An attack against the United States economy by a country like China for example may affect the Chinese economy more than the United States economy. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda on the other hand will not lose anything in such instances and will therefore not hesitate to launch these kinds of attacks given a chance to do so. (Verton, 2002, p.8)
Cyber terrorism is a threat that is here with us with a potential of significantly developing and increasing in the near future. What more? We cannot deny the fact the computer will every day take another role from us as we embrace and improve on technology. Moreover, tools that can be used by cyber terrorists including knowledge resources are readily available almost for every one able and will to use them. The obvious truth is therefore that cyber kind of attacks will increasingly remain a major headache to governments and concerned authorities. Some people even think that in the future, physical combats between warring nations will be replaced by cyber warfare. Consider the fact that nuclear and other extremely dangerous weapons for example are launched and controlled by computer systems to see the real danger posed by cyber terrorism. (Smith, 2004, p.54)
The United States government and other governments have recognized this and have therefore put up some measures to counter this threat and protect critical networks. However, many people will not feel secure from cyber attacks just because the government is spending billions to counter cyber terrorism. This money needs to be spent wisely and strategically to achieve the intended purpose. (Office of Management and Budget, 2003)
The United States recognizes the following as critical networks in the country: banking and finance, provision of water and electricity, the government including the military, oil and gas, transportation and provision of emergency services. DITSCAP (the Defense Department Information Security Certification and Accreditation Program) is a program that is being implemented by the department of defense to protect critical networks in the country. This program provides a comprehensive review of critical networks used by the government in relation to security. This review is done every three years or at any time a change is introduced to the concerned network. (Nearon, 2005, p.34)
Most companies and institutions relying on computer networks use traditional protective schemes that include firewalls, virus and intrusion detection, vulnerability testing and security patches. Firewalls focus on the protection of network ports and entry points within a network. Virus detection mechanisms on the other hand test for viruses by offering to an updated database. Vulnerability testing on the other hand tries to recognize any weaknesses that may be inherent in a network system. This is done by exposing the network system to trial attacks and monitoring how the network will behave in such cases. The network is then improved by improving these weaknesses. (Layland, 2006, p.39)
Terrorism has been an important issue in the United States and is receiving a lot of focus. One approach taken by the United States government in dealing with terrorism is by making it hard for terrorist groups to launch attacks. The government has carried out assassinations against terrorist leaders like Al Qaeda leaders killed in Somali for example. Al Qaeda networks have also been attacked in the Middle East and Afghanistan among other places. Weakening terrorist groups in this manner is may be necessary to weaken their capacity to launch terrorist attacks including cyber terrorism against certain interests. (Kuchta, 2001, p.30)
Laws have also been put in place to deal with and discourage cyber terrorism as much as possible. However, dealing with and prosecuting cyber offenders present a number of difficulties. First, it may be difficult to locate such individuals since they may launch these attacks from anywhere including the comfort of a Cyber Café. Secondly, such offenders such as that of the love bug case for example are rarely in a capacity to compensate affected companies and institutions which may not even sue the person. Moreover, some companies may consider it as compromising their security and confidential information and may therefore not report cyber crime cases. So far, national terrorism is considered to be the kind of terrorism that could easily attack infrastructure systems. Many issues come at hand including lack of a clear international law on cyber terrorism and consideration of trading relations among other factors which act together to hinder justice and honesty in such instances. (Henderson, 2002, p.19)
The United States government has employed and may need to improve a vigorous and effective intelligence network that should detect any terrorist activities in their infant stages. This will provide important information such that such attacks are prevented before they occur and even enable network developers to close leaks that would allow such kind of attacks. This intelligent network should cover every region. In this regard, it may be necessary for countries on the globe to work together collectively in trust since it is very hard for any country in the world to have such a strong intelligence system on its own. (Gabrys, 2002, p.22)
There are several technologies that have been developed to fight cyber attacks and cyber terrorism. Signal systems of intelligence can be used in data gathering and monitoring of terrorist activities. Through such technologies, it is easy to watch closely specific groups and bug computers. Contacts of such communication can therefore be recognized and the communication network mapped. This information can then be used to prevent attacks and make arrests. (Cordesman, 2002)
International treaties and cooperation among friendly nations is necessary in fighting cyber crime. The NATO agreement for example provides that an attack against any of the individual members is considered as an attack against all the members of the organization. During the cold war between Russia ant the United States, this agreement was used to protect NATO members. Extending such agreements in dealing with cyber terrorism especially national cyber terrorism is necessary. Such an agreement would enable members to share intelligence and technology in fighting cyber terrorism targeting critical infrastructure. (Boyle, 2005)
The Internet protocol was of course developed with good intentions and has brought uncountable benefits to mankind. The developers saw the need to develop a system of communication that could be used by anyone at any place. Our world has also continuously employed computer systems and networks to perform and improve on provision of services among other things to enable us perform activities that would be difficult or impossible to do in the first place. As the computer becomes an increasingly integral component in our lives that we cannot live without, many people understand how computer networks work knowledge that they can use for other good or for selfishness. On the other hand global resources are becoming scarce. Competition for these resources and international power to influence things according to diverse people’s ideologies and beliefs is obviously bound to create a conflict.
This conflict can be seen on the global stage on a new war front that has emerged-cyber terrorism. This warfare is fought by governments that intend to be in a capacity to weaken others by attacking their infrastructure systems through computer technology. Terrorist groups that although they have never used such technology before, are finding it attractive and are obviously working on it also fight it. Other groups of people are also fighting this warfare for their own reasons. Our infrastructure systems are therefore not safe calling upon the government and concerned parties to take up measures so as to avoid and or prevent such attacks when they occur.
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