Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cyber-terror makes a comeback in the news

In the first couple of years following the events of September 11, 2001, a hysteria regarding Internet-fueled terrorism reached fever pitch.

In the midst of this atmosphere, many Islamic movements and organizations on the web were banned, blocked, censored or monitored. With time, the term “cyber terror” emerged to describe any form of Internet aided attack for political causes, yet many still disagree to this day on the use of the word ‘terror’, opposed to more accurate words like ‘vandalism’ or simply just ‘hacking’.

After all, these politically motivated attacks were not killing anyone, unlike terrorist acts in the real world, and most of these problems could be fought back with technology solutions, like anti-hacking measures and proper Internet security procedures

Since those days, every once in a while we see a return of cyber terrorism talk in the press, like this week as Saudi security intelligence and technology experts are calling for the creation of new laws to stop the growing threat of cyber-terrorism and the radical ideologies it promotes.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia are urging the United Nations to press member states for the “introduction of new laws to criminalize the use of communications technology to spread terrorist ideologies which concerns all countries”.

The statement came out of a conference in Riyadh, organized by the Saudi Intelligence Services, attended by around 3,000 security intelligence personnel and information technology experts.
It is true that there is a credible threat of terrorist groups using the Internet to get organized, just as they would have used telephones and letters in the pre-Internet age; but this conference was saying that the Internet actually enabled these groups to carry out strategic attacks around the world.

Quoting the reports: “Prince Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz told delegates his intelligence organization had identified over 17,000 websites which fuel Al-Qaeda ideology. He stressed the need for immediate action to cull the rampant growth of cyber-terrorism, which he said increases by some 9,000 websites per year.”

The strategic importance of communications technologies has been well understood by these groups, and it apparently has resulted in more sophisticated cooperation between cells. A Saudi daily newspaper spoke to the prince who added that “Terrorists do not just focus on military success. There is a third angle to the operation which is the glory of publicity, which compensates for the failure of the operation.”

Looking at things from this angle, probably elevates the classic ideas regarding terrorism and the Internet, and possibly makes the term ‘Cyber Terror’ more credible. With general sentiment worldwide agreeing to a strict crackdown measures on such sites and networks, there’s also a need for parallel training programs designed to educate both security specialists and the general public about what is and what isn't cyber-terrorism.

A clear definition of what constitutes a cyber-terrorist website is needed, to ensure that this doesn’t become another witch-hunt of all forms of Islamic or Arab nationalistic content on the web in the US and Europe.



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