The threat of cyber terrorism has grabbed the headlines in recent years, and it has become a matter of attracting debate by politicians, mass media, security sectors, journalists, and the private sector. There have been many allegations that cybercriminals hacked into computers that control air traffic, hence endangering the lives of many people and compromising national security generally. However, despite all the deadly predictions of cyber terrorism, none has been witnessed so far. The matter has brought together politicians, generals, and intelligent experts to go into discussions that lasted for days on how to face this enemy whom they think can trigger a cyber-Katrina anytime.
Bowman- Grieve (2015) asserts that amid all the strong warning and the statistics that the cyber-terrorism matter has generated, it is vital also to be aware that there have been no cyberterrorism incidents recorded in the public transport, power plants, nuclear plants, and any other critical national sectors. Cyber-attacks may exist, but terrorists have not used them to the extent of creating panic.
In that case, is the whole cyber terrorism issue overblown? The cyber terrorism issue has been exaggerated because the world has not witnessed such cases, and the only information warfare that exists is “computer ethical hacking.”
The issue of cyber-terrorism could be one of the greatest ironies of the twenty-first century. Countries like the US are leading in digital technologies in fields like communication, security, and financial systems. The sophisticated nature of its communication systems, GPS systems that are in place to control air traffic, among others, can be the target of some scrupulous self-centered individuals who, if capable, can take them down.
The question that arises is if the systems are that vulnerable. The threat that everyone is aware of is that of information warfare, and the group behind it is computer hackers.
There is the belief that some hostile governments may hire computer hackers to enter into the data networks of Western Countries and take them down, which would then allow terrorists to lounge attacks with ease. The trending news that a group of hackers is about to bring down networks has gained popularity lately. The meeting of the G7 group in the wake of the bombing in Atlanta during the Olympics games, perhaps, created a panic and showed the need for countries to strengthen their network and security systems. Countries like the US are already putting in place measures to ensure that it is not vulnerable. These include the hardening of the federal computer systems to protect them from electronic attacks.
Despite the havoc that these doomsday cyber terrorism predictions have wrecked, the threat of electronic warfare appears to have been greatly overblown. A survey conducted for three years in over 10000 companies by Britain’s National Computing Center based in Manchester, reported findings that organizations were more prone to viruses, untested software programs, and mistakes from the employees than information terrorists (Theohary & Rollins, 2015). The report indicated that only 3% of the companies had encountered cases of hacking. Hacking cases have been witnessed in abundance recently, but most of the hackers assert that they do not do it to destabilize governments or companies by crashing their servers. They say that what they do is instead “ethical hacking,” which entails navigating into computer systems and servers just for intellectual excitement. On the other hand, the hacking incidences provide information and awareness to the victims that the security of their servers can be breached.
The Agents of Hostile Power, a group of hackers, came out with a press release that their interest was on ethical hacking, and whenever they found a weakness in the systems of companies, they inform them to build robust security firewalls. Another ethical group called the Hack the Lies emerged to educate the media platforms about hacking. The group chose to do something positive after being branded pornographers and pedophiles. Kenney (2015) suggested that technological skills and extensive use of the internet should not bring conclusions of planning cyber-attacks. After reviewing the data from the computers taken from the computer networks of terrorists in Afghanistan, the findings provided a glimpse of the issue of cyber terrorism. The laptops recovered proved that the terrorists were more technologically skilled than previously believed.
The discoveries included engineering software and electronic models of dams, nuclear plants, computerized water systems, and the structures of European and American stadiums. However, nothing from the findings suggested them organizing a cyber-attacks but only that they utilized the internet to coordinate and communicate when planning attacks. Neither Al Qaeda nor any other terrorist uprisings seem to have planned to stage a cyber-attack.
Many computer security experts have maintained that it is almost impossible to cause deaths on a large scale by the use of the internet. Others said that the resilience of computers to lounge attacks requires much investment of time, money, and skills. Green, a computer technology expert, said that nuclear weapons technologies lack access to the internet or computer systems, making them inaccessible by terrorists or hackers. However, it is vital to note that the methods that are controlled by private companies can be vulnerable than those controlled by the government and the military (Blakemore, 2016). These can include areas of concern like communication systems, power grids, water systems, and other sectors, and these can get targeted to cause mass destruction.
A significant occurrence in this issue is that of a teenager who hacked into the Supervisory Control and data acquisition (SCADA) system in Arizona in 1998. The report from the incident was that it could have released millions of gallons of water washing away the neighborhood. However, a description by Computer-technologies disputed the statement that the hacker could have caused a loss of lives and property. Two questions need to be asked when analyzing the likelihood of cyber terrorism activities. First is if there are targets that can be susceptible to cyber-attacks. The second one is if there are experts who exist with the motivation to execute the action. For the first question, the answer is yes because every complex infrastructure has a weakness. For the second question, only ill-motivated employees can tamper with a company’s system. Besides, the terrorists would use employees or ex-employees of the targeted organization to succeed in breaching the servers.
Based on the experiences in the past and the ones that are happening currently, it is evident that the issue of cyber terrorism generally is exaggerated. It has created fear, but it seems that the worst feeling that cyber terrorism has caused is the imagination of what it can do if it materializes. However, the issue will keep on hitting the headlines and will make the convergence of world superpowers frequently. The main reason for discussion will come out of the fear of what could happen if terrorists employ technology to sabotage the countries’ economies.