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Cyberterrorism or Cyberhype?

This month, I’ve been asked to research any potential or actual convergence between cybercrime and terrorism. Just back from a short tour of the Middle East, I don’t see any immediate evidence of one touching upon the other but in the coming weeks, I’ll be knocking on the doors of friends at the different law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in a bid to find out.



Georgetown University Professor, Dorothy Denning pointed out as far back as 1999 that the Internet presented a tool for influencing foreign policy. She commented, “What can be said is that the threat of cyberterrorism, combined with hacking threats in general, is influencing policy decisions related to cyberdefense at both a national and international level”

Asking “Who are the cyber terrorists”, Dr. Mudawi Mukhtar Elmusharaf of the computer crime research centre writes, “

“From American point of view the most dangerous terrorist group is Al-Qaeda”. The evidence indicates that the group has scouted systems that control American energy facilities, water distribution, communication systems, and other critical infrastructure. Dr Elmusharaf also points out that in “A study that covered the second half of the year 2002 showed that the most dangerous nation for originating malicious cyber attacks is the United States with 35.4% of the cases down from 40% for the first half of the same year. South Korea came next with 12.8%, followed by China 6.2% then Germany 6.7% then France 4%. The UK came number 9 with 2.2%” – Which should please David Blunkett no end.

Former Middle East war correspondent, Giles Trendle, who aired an ITN documentary with former hostage John McCarthy on Easter Sunday, has visited the Ain il-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon to see how guerrilla leader; 'Colonel' Mounir Maqdah is harnessing the power of Information Technology to grow a networked organisation to extend his strike capabilities beyond all borders.

“Maqdah”, writes Trendle, who also attended this year’s eCrime congress, “Is a bullet-scarred, die-hard guerrilla fighter: a practiced exponent of asymmetric war. For this reason, he is using IT tools to offset his disadvantages and increase his capabilities to strike big against his conventionally more-powerful enemy” which in this case is the state of Israel but he’s prepared to be flexible and last year issued a threat, issued via a local magazine, that should the US attack Iraq then "hundreds of martyrs are ready to send America into hell."

In reality, fears of cyber terrorism may owe more to statistics from leading anti-virus vendors or even press releases from consultancy mi2G, which, in 2002, prompted Richard Forno, security consultant to the US Department of Defense, to launch a broadside against the company, accusing it of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt over cyberterrorism risks, questioning its estimates of damage caused by cyber attacks and 'cybersecurity ‘intelligence' sources.

The computer crime research centre does however find one statistic that both Symantec and mi2G can agree upon, that “More than half of recorded digital attacks in the past, have been the result of misuse and abuse of networks by employees”. This may tell us that in 2004, we have far more to fear from the people inside the corporate firewall than we have to be concerned with ideologically motivated terrorist attacks from the outside.


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