Just what is cyberterrorism?
The word cyber relates to the culture of computers, information technology and virtual reality. Terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Cyberterrorism may therefore be defined as the use of computer technology, as a tool and a vehicle to intimidate and pressurize
Consider for a moment the extent to which we have become dependant on computers. In almost any business these days, whether large or small, work is disrupted if the computer system crashes. But computers not only help us run our businesses, they control communications as a whole, such as financial services on a global scale. Without computers, aviation could no longer function and power sources would be paralysed. Essential information and records are stored on computer systems throughout the world. Where would the fight against crime be without computer technology? Computers have become crucial for survival. Take them away and we all take a massive step backwards.
However, computers are vulnerable and have their weaknesses, so just how susceptible are we to a deliberate attack?
The fact is that we are surrounded by the resources to launch a cyber attack. A computer connected to the Internet is all it takes, plus of course, one necessary and essential ingredient - know-how!
In 1996, realising the dangers of cyberterrorism, President Clinton created the Commission of Critical Infrastructure Protection in order to introduce safeguards. With heightened awareness, various government organizations throughout the world have introduced protective measures with adequate firewalls, more stringent login procedures and password controls including encryption. Groups have been formed to search out and deal with any cyber attacks. Government organizations make regular attempts to gain control of systems to pinpoint any weaknesses. These days, highly sensitive, classified information is often stored on computers with no external connection.
Experts consider that terrorists would prefer to cause damage by blowing something apart, than quietly finding out how to hack into and manipulate a computer system. Terrorists want to make an impact and create headlines for their cause. However, manipulating a computer system itself is one thing, accessing and destroying or changing critical data is another. Because of the World Wide Web and despite considerable expenditure in recent years, data access by persons wanting to cause harm remains a valid threat. Most hacker attacks do not disable a system but corrupt it, making it carry out wrong tasks whilst appearing to function quite normally. For example: corrupting an airline’s reservation system data would wreak havoc. Changing pharmacy data on medication could cause numerous deaths.
However, whilst such data appears to be at serious risk, the actual risk to mankind is probably less critical. The awareness of the need for computer protection has spread not only to computer specialists throughout the world but also to individual users. Behind every computer is a human being and although the element of human error exists, so does the element of human intervention. Intervention in the sense of prevention - of vigilance, discovery and evasive action.