Cyber Terrorism

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In 1999, Chinese hackers targeted United States government sites, after an accidental bombing of a Chinese embassy in Belgrade. During this attack, government sites were hijacked and some sites suffered a denial of service attack. Most recently, it was suspected that Bank of America was the victim of a cyber terrorism attack; although no definitive evidence is available to substantiate that claim.  Cyber terror attacks pose a threat against the national security of the United States. In order to fully comprehend the threat that cyber terrorism poses, it is essential to understand the background, the effects, the reality of the threat and the future of cyber terrorism. This assessment examines the reality of the cyber terrorism threat, and also questions its validity. 

The roots of cyber terrorism can be traced back to the early 1990s when the Internet began to emerge. The introduction of the “information society” sparked many studies which focused on the potential risks faced by the highly networked and the high-tech-dependant, United States. Initially the concerns were of a cyber attack, an attack which could result in denial of service, system malfunction or unauthorized intrusion. Such an attack could be the result of a domestic hacker or an employee upset with working conditions. Now, the threat of a cyber attack is much more prevalent and the damage could be on a much larger scale and could manifest in the form of cyber terrorism. The threat of cyber terrorism has grabbed national attention, either by the media, the information technology (IT) industry, journalists, politicians or experts elsewhere. 

The growing reliance the United States has on information technology has created a new form of vulnerability, which allows terrorists indirect access to approach systems which would otherwise be completely inaccessible. The threat to the public and the government lies in the fact that cyber terrorists possess the ability to shut down major systems which the U.S. depends upon. 

Effects of a Cyber Terrorism Attack 

Today, nearly all processes are computer reliant. Business, government and industry have all become addicted to information and dependent upon the Internet. The effect of an intrusion from cyber terrorism could affect anything from banking systems to water systems. The effects on those systems would have devastating results which could shut down the nation. The reliance upon these systems creates an opportunity for terrorism. 

The intention of a cyber terrorism attack could range from economic disruption through the interruption of financial networks or used in support of a physical attack to cause further confusion and possible delay in rendering aid. Years ago, it was estimated that the Internet being down for one day could result in nearly $6.5 billion in commerce transactions lost. The financial ramifications of such an attack would be devastating. 

Understanding the Threat: Vulnerability and Capability 

There are two factors needing be considered when evaluating the threat of cyber terrorism. The first factor is whether there are targets that are vulnerable enough to attack which would lead to violence and harm. The second factor is whether there are actors with the capability and motivation to carry out such an intricate attack. 

Many critical infrastructures are potentially vulnerable to a cyber terrorism attack, through mutual Internet dependencies and interconnectedness. Decreased regulation and increased focus on individual profitability has made utility and other companies move more of their operations to the Internet, in search of greater efficiency and customer service. Companies, such as energy companies are extremely vulnerable to a cyber terrorism attack. The energy industry and other private companies have become prospective targets by creating links (both physical and wireless) between their networks. Their links manage the flow of many pertinent functions throughout the...
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