Cyberspace next playground for terrorists

Monday September 12 2011

By ESMOND SHAHONYA

Last weekend was the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States of America.

Ten years ago, al Qaeda terrorists staged four suicide attacks in New York and Washington DC, using four passenger aeroplanes. They crashed two aeroplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, which later collapsed.

A third aircraft crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and the fourth jet crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers attempted to take its control before it could reach the hijackers’ intended target in Washington, DC. Nearly 3,000 died in the attacks.

The US and the rest of the world have since remained vigilant against the terrorism threat. So far, terrorists and related operatives have demonstrated physical damage to property with resultant deaths and losses.

However, there is now a growing threat of cyber-terrorism as countries embrace the digital age.

The methods of attacks have been unpredictable. In the August 1998 bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the terrorists used truckloads of explosives.

In the September 11 attacks, they used aircraft. In other attacks, mobile phones have been used as triggering devices for bombs. The method points to a crowd-sourced conscience that cuts across human professionalism and background.

Threats from unpredictable approaches can be astonishingly real. This prompted the US government to look at terrorism from a much broader perspective and demonstrates clear physical damage.

Future inclination towards software bombs cannot be overlooked. Information systems and ICTs that are poorly secured remain vulnerable to cyber attacks and intrusions.

Unless all digital loopholes are sealed, it is possible for a criminal to launch an attack to targets on the other side of the world linked via the cyberspace.

Such attacks can be aimed at critical systems that control and monitor important plants or processes in governments, corporations, and enterprises.

Terrorists can use deadly viruses, hacking tools, codes and malicious software to initiate their evil plans. If terrorists were to ride well on advances in technology, future attacks could target industrial processes and critical infrastructure.

In developed countries, such attacks could be aimed at smart power grids, electric trains and nuclear plants.

Modern computer networking crimes have blurred the distinction between cyber warfare, crime, and terrorism. The proportion of criminal activity in cyber space that can be attributed to terrorism is difficult to isolate from the various mutations of digital crime.

It can be argued that terrorists are likely to resort to cyberspace only as a means to amplify their activities or if it will eventually result into physical damage and casualties.

A case in point would be attacks to destabilise critical infrastructure that is reliant on information and communication technologies (ICTs).

In the world of terrorism, the stakes are high and attacks unpredictable. As people and countries become highly dependent on ICTs, the fear of terrorism is unavoidable.

IT security experts have identified links of terrorism activities and the networked world where the Internet is used to recruit members, launder money, incite, and spread the gospel of terrorism.

The writer is a telecommunication engineer. Email: [email protected]

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