In Cyber Safety, The Digital World

Is There Such a Thing as Cyber Terrorism?

The term cyber terrorism sounds menacing. However, many people do not have a good understanding of what cyber terrorism even is and how it differs from other forms of terrorism. The history of terrorism comprises ways to scare and harm people, and cyber terrorism is the newest form. The causes of terrorism are incomprehensible to most of the world, but the impact of terrorism is very real. Gathering information about terrorism is a good way to prepare yourself in the event of an emergency.

What Is Cyber Terrorism?

One of the reasons that cyber terrorism is hard to define, is because there are many terms that are used interchangeably in reference to cyber terrorism. Terms like cyber war, cyber crime, information war, electronic terrorism and hacktivism have been in circulation for some time. All of these terms refer to the same types of cyber activity. The intent of this article is to help people better understand exactly what cyber terrorism is and how it differs from other, less serious forms of cyber harassment. When individuals understand what cyber terrorism is, they can be better informed about ways that cyber terrorists wish to use Internet capabilities and individual’s private information in order to enact crimes.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation defines cyber terrorism as any, “premeditated, politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs, and data which results in violence against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” Many people wonder how cyber terrorism differs from Internet hacking. The difference between the two types of crimes lies in the outcome. Internet hacking or the generation of computer viruses, for the most part, has the objective of denying a person, company or large groups of people service. There is also often the objective of stealing information from individual people or individual companies.

Cyber terrorism, however, has the sole objective of causing some kind of violent reaction or devastating financial harm to the United States. Possible targets for a cyber terrorism attack would be the banking industry, military installations, power plants and traffic control centers. When the infrastructure of these institutions is disruptive, or in a worst case scenario, destroyed, then the public at large would be thrown into a state of chaos with possible violent outcomes.

Why Is Cyber Terrorism Such a Threat?

You may wonder if these types of activities could have a warfare like effect on an entire country. The answer to that lies in our reliance upon our technology. As individuals, we rely heavily on technology for our daily lives. Many individuals have electronic deposit of their pay checks. Should banking systems come under attack and their electronic abilities come to a halt, millions of people would be without their money. Many individuals also have technology related jobs. Should there be a mass outage of Internet service providers, millions of people would be out of work, or unable to access work. They would be without any means of generating income in order to buy the most basic needs. Our power companies are run on digital grids. If those grids go out, power goes out. Many people rely on electricity as their only means of heat. The spiral effect of losing these types of services would send our country into a complete state of emergency.

History of Cyber Terrorism

Although the terminology “cyber terrorism” seems fairly new to many people, the phrase has actually been around since the 1980s when the Internet was still in its infancy. Even then, far sighted Internet engineers could see how the Internet could be misused by criminals. What could not completely be foreseen, was how desperately dependent the entire country would be upon their technology. This dependence makes cyber terrorism a very simple criminal task. Already cyber terror attacks have taken place which have caused intense emotional and financial reaction. For example earlier this year the Twitter account of The Associated Press was hacked and a message was sent that informed them that the White House had been bombed and that the president was injured. Within minutes the stock market fell by 143 points! This is a small example of how very quickly and powerfully cyber terrorism can work its black magic. Many people are tagging cyber terrorism as the new language of war.

Just as there are different categories of terrorism, there are also different types of cyber terrorism. Some cyber terror attacks focus mainly on information and stealing that information. There are many important government and military sites that digitally warehouse information. This information in the wrong hands could pose a serious threat to the safety of our country. Another form of cyber terrorism is financial. Because so much of our economy is digital and so much money is passed through digital means today, stealing becomes much easier for a cyber terrorist who knows how to access that money. Another form of cyber terrorism is attacks on our countries infrastructure. This includes attacks on the systems that control our water systems, traffic control on the ground and in the air and power grids. Attacks on these systems could throw the entire country into panic within a matter of minutes.

Social media can also be used to spread mass hysteria within seconds. Terrorist masquerading as legitimate news sources can quickly spread erroneous information to billions of people with one simple message. When large groups of people are quickly thrown into a fearful situation violence, looting and rioting can result.

What Can Be Done?

The U.S. government recognizes the very real threats that cyber terrorism has presented to the American people. Much time and effort has gone into safe guarding our sensitive information systems with anti terrorism measures so that cyber terrorists would have a hard time penetrating them. Individuals themselves can take a few steps to be ready in case of an emergency brought on by a cyber attack.

The website offers a wide range of information that can help individuals get prepared in the event of different kinds of emergencies. Some of these emergencies include technological emergencies like those that could be caused by cyber terrorists. Some of the steps that families can take to help protect themselves in the event of an emergency is to create an emergency box. An emergency box is a large plastic crate filled with non-perishable food, water, flashlights, batteries, blankets, can openers, and other items you might find helpful during an emergency. This is a very basic type of step that could assist you early on during an emergency.

During an emergency, such as those that could be brought on by a cyber terrorism attack, people generally panic in the first few hours. However, if you have an emergency plan in place, and have some supplies on hand that could help you for a few hours or a few days, you will feel much more confident while you figure out what the next step should be to get you and your family safely through the emergency.

Another step that individuals can take is to keep their own personal information secure over the Internet. Never open emails or links from sources you are not familiar with. Simple viruses could turn into serious cyber attacks. It is also a good idea to keep any banking or money transactions to a minimum online. Financial information is particularly sensitive and carries with it many opportunities for cyber terrorists to access crucial financial systems. Chances are that a serious cyber terrorism attack will begin with some type of virus that will spread quickly through the mobile devices of regular criticizes first.

It is also wise to have some of your savings and finances in easily accessible cash form. In the event that financial institutions are ever affected by a cyber terrorism attack, you and your family will have some means of cash on hand for purchases until the crisis is resolved.

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