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The Internet Can Be Used For Terrorism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2295 words Published: 4th May 2017

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The internet covers a vast number of ways in which it can be used for terrorism, the most common way in which terrorist use the internet, is in fact the use we fear least, namely the use to recruit, communicate and spread propaganda. Cyber war, which includes, terrorist attacks such as hacking into nuclear power plants, flight control or even business’s is in reality yet to be seen or even developed by terrorists, however it is still the side of internet terrorism that we fear most. The terrorists using the internet cannot be easily defined as one group of people. John Deutch argues that there are three types of terrorists, the first is state sponsored terrorists, second is groups trying to overthrow their government to gain independence and finally Islamic terrorists who operate and have interests in not one sole country but instead with in a region, which in their case is predominantly, but not solely, the middle east. [1] The different aims and the degree of how radical each group is, will affect the extent to which different terrorists are willing to use the internet to achieve their goal.

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The internet’s simple accessibility, minimal restrictions and speed to reach vast potential audiences is the basis for why it has become so popular for governments, businesses and the public, including terrorists, to increasingly use it for everyday tasks. The freedom and equality that the internet allows, and which democratic countries support, is a double-edged sword as it allows terrorists to just as easily coordinate and conform to attack these democratic values. The internet provides a means for terrorists to attack on a more level playing field in a cyber war, instead of the traditional means of warfare in which the states military superiority can usually defeat the terrorists. However, accessing and attacking information on the internet can be harder in less democratic countries such as china where the internet is heavily censored. Gabriel Weimann says that most terrorist sites emphasize two issues, “the restrictions placed on freedom of expression and the plight of comrades who are now political prisoners” [2] . With regard to the first point that terrorists sites emphasize the restrictions placed on their freedom, this very notion that they are publicising this worldwide on their sites to mass audiences is a contradiction of having their free speech restricted. Furthermore, despite the United States’ military attacks on Al Qaeda since the war on terror, Al Qaeda has still gained large publicity in the west. Whether this is video tapes of Osama Bin Laden, or messages warning of further attacks, it has allowed them the freedom to spread their message and fear to their enemies. Weimann goes on to say though that terrorist sites swiftly emerge, modify their formats, and then swiftly disappear again. “In some cases, e.g. Al Qaeda’s, locations and contents change almost daily” [3] . If terrorist’s freedom were unrestricted, they would not have to do this, thus the internet is clearly a place that offers terrorists vast opportunities, but not without extreme risk and precaution.

The internet’s opportunities that have been exploited the most are the use of propaganda and recruiting, targeting mainly potential supporters and the public of the enemy, “Potentials are bombarded with anti-American propaganda” [4] . Prior to the internet, the only outlet the terrorists had was television, radio and newspapers, all of which are selective, and more cautious to a certain extent, of what they choose to publicise. Indirectly however, the internet has actually helped terrorists reach audiences through these traditional media outlets. “Press releases are often placed on the websites in an effort to get the organisations point of view into the traditional media.” [5] Foreign journalists are actually aimed at through the internet; in this manner, the internet not only provides a way for terrorists to reach the public, but also in fact allows them to reach out through traditional media outlets, which previously was very rare. It allows mainstream journalists to access and choose whether to publicise their material, which prior to the internet would have been very hard to get their message to these journalists. The extent of this should not be overstated though, it may have made it easier for terrorist groups to catch the attention of journalists, but that by no means, and is still very rare, that they will publicise their message, at least not in the light that the terrorists would like it to be portrayed anyway.

The internet also provides an outlet for psychological warfare, fundraising, co-ordinating attacks and for hiding encrypted manuals and instructions [6] . There is much evidence to support this; the IRA as well as other terrorist groups has received many donations online. Psychological warfare has been committed by posting beheadings and murder online, such as the murder of American journalist Daniel pearl. Donald Rumsfeld said that an Al Qaeda terrorist manual said it was possible to gather at least 80% of all information required about the enemy to co-ordinate an attack. As for terrorist manuals and instructions, the terrorist’s handbook, anarchist’s cookbook and the Encyclopaedia of jihad, which include details of how to run an underground organisation and execute attacks, can be easily found online. Despite the internet providing an outlet for these uses, most of the operating systems and programs used by these terrorists are likely to be American made; meaning it is highly likely that precautionary counter measures are already in place by America to prevent an attack against them. Fundraising can be easily quashed through the collaboration of the governments and card companies, as seen recently with visa and MasterCard’s ban on donations to Wikileaks. Although not a terrorist organisation, a group nonetheless causing problems to the U.S that they quickly restricted. Psychological warfare using murder and brutality videos are rarely on the internet for long and usually seen by very few because they are not easily available, or plainly because many people do not want to watch them. The internet’s use for distributing manuals and co-ordinating attacks has proved harder to restrict though and the growth of cloud computing is only hindering this, cloud computing also at the same time provides another possible area for terrorists to attack, particularly business’s using cloud networks.

The mass media has overstated the threat of cyber terrorism and made inadequate awareness to the daily uses like recruitment and spreading of propaganda, but this is not to say that the cyber terrorism is not a threat. John Arquilla says that cyberwar “Like war in Clausewitz’s view, may be a “chameleon.” It will be adaptable to varying contexts.” [7] As cyberwar is a new concept, in relation to the centuries of warfare, it is hard to say yet whether this is the case. The extent of its use is fast appearing though, the ability to recruit and train as previously mentioned as well as the ability to hack enemy systems and potentially cripple them shows that a battle could be started, carried out and won with just the effective use of superior hackers. Vice admiral Bevrowski said, “We are in the midst of a revolution in military affairs (RMA) unlike any seen since the Napoleonic Age” [8] . I believe that the development of the internet and networks is actually much larger than the Napoleonic age RMA, but at the same time much more restrained. In a way, it is a much larger revolution because for the first time it creates a more level battlefield for terrorists who can rarely compete militarily against states. Cyberwar in theory can cause an even more destructive victory without killing one person, by solely destroying vital enemy networks and systems, or merely just bluffing that you are capable and willing to do so. Christopher Joyner believes that it only needs an adversary to attack the US banks and the whole economy would crumble. [9] On the other hand it could actually prevent what John Arquilla says has been the main aim of warfare since the sixteenth century, attrition or absolute defeat of the enemy [10] . If you manage to access the enemy’s networks, but not attack and instead threaten the enemy to surrender, then this could potentially end the battle without casualties. The flaw in the threat of cyberwar is that although the enemy has effectively been defeated, they have not been weakened at all and could come back and attack very quickly. Americans and other nations threatened by terrorists will likely have superior defences in place to prevent this sort of catastrophic attack though, limiting and restraining the use of internet warfare by terrorists. At the same time, despite states superior networks and technology, it is very hard for states to know how to directly attack rogue terrorist groups without unintentionally attacking civilians; again, the possibilities for internet warfare are limited. The exception to this would be state sponsored terrorists, states have clear targets such as the military, transportation systems or their stock exchange, all of which can be dealt powerful blows to get them to hand over terrorists and stop supporting them.

Traditional views of war can be applied to cyber war, as Von Clausewitz argues; the defending party always has an advantage over the attacking forces. This is true for cyber war and is why attempts to successfully combat cyber terrorism are made more difficult. The defending state has to produce advanced, expensive technological methods to protect all of its information, from its stock exchanges and health care systems to its military and nuclear systems. The attacker on the other hand only has to find a way to access one of these areas to cause catastrophic damage, thus they can spend more time and money focussing on one area of attack while the defending nation has to spread its resources across many; this gives the attacking terrorists the advantage. To combat this, the easiest way is to know what area the terrorists plan to attack so you can focus resources. The problem that arises from this solution though is that it is very easy to start abusing civil liberties by illegally monitoring citizen’s activities and restricting certain information; whether this prevents the attack or not, the terrorists will have already won a victory of discrediting the western values of freedom and liberty. The illegal wiretaps that George Bush approved without a warrant under the PATRIOT Act prove this; the threat of terrorism is enough to make governments crack and hand the terrorists a small victory.

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The rise of internet terrorism has changed the hierarchical system in terror cells to a network of international, independent terrorist cells. In order to combat this, states must co-operate and share information. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that sharing information occurs, it is likely that a lot of useful information is not shared though. The issue is not just the sharing information; if terrorist cells co-ordinate globally then likewise must governments. John Deutch mentions how Europeans protested over the U.S bombing of Libya after a bomb killed two Americans. [11] Disagreements make an international response, slower, inefficient and divided. The terrorist cells, for the most part to not have this problem, they join specific terrorist groups because of its reputation and intentions and are usually united under one political or religious aim.

The opportunities presented to terrorists by the internet are increasing as the world become more reliant on the internet. At present though, the opportunities are largely non-aggressive and this is mainly because actions such as recruiting over chat rooms and spreading propaganda are hard to combat and even if the enemy finds them, there is usually nothing illegal about these websites and new ones can be easily re-opened under a different name. For terrorists trying to use the internet for aggressive means such as hacking, the opportunities are a lot more limited because most states threatened by terrorism, have invested large amounts of money into cyber defences to combat this.


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