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 United States, like the flow of electricity, natural gas and water purification. Cyber terrorism is an attractive strategy for the future due to the reliance upon cyber technology. Likewise, terrorists will strive to improve their cyber terror attack capabilities by keeping pace with the emerging technologies and overcoming countermeasures. Many computer security experts question the possibility that the Internet could be used to inflict death on a large scale. Some precautions have been made.
Systems have been established in the last five years, which aim at preventing a possible cyber terrorism attack. “Air gapping” has been established on all nuclear weapons, meaning the weapons are not connected to the Internet or any open computer network and cannot be accessed by intruders or terrorists. Still, other areas of concern include subways, gas lines, power grids and communication systems; which are owned primarily by the private sector and are managed by Internet enabled computer systems. Reality of a Cyber Terror Attack
Malicious cyber activity is occurring more frequently and with unexpected complexity. In mid-December of 2009, Google experienced a highly sophisticated and targeted attack which originated in China on its search engine infrastructure and e-mail, as well as on at least 20 other companies. Attacks are occurring within the United States, as well. Attacks on government networks are omnipresent. In 2008, NASA and other departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Commerce suffered major intrusions by “unknown foreign entities” which compromised a great deal of confidential information.
Combating and “Preparing” for Cyber Terrorism The threat of cyber terrorism has reached a point where countries should consider the value and possibility of a cyber treaty. Currently, no such law or treaty exists. In the past, United States officials resisted such ideas. Recently, the Obama administration has expressed openness to the idea, pledging to secure the nation’s vital computer networks and creating a White House office to coordinate cyber security. In February 2010, a cyber attack scenario proved how unprepared the United States is for such an attack.
A group of national security and cyber security experts wrestled with a rare public cyber war game designed to highlight the potential vulnerability of the nation’s digital infrastructure to a crippling attack. The results were disturbing. The consensus was that such an attack yielded treading on “uncharted territory. ” Future Outlook on Cyber Terrorism Future terrorists may see greater potential for cyber terrorism, as the future of terrorism is changing. The future generations of terrorists are growing up in a digital world, whereby cyber terrorism is more likely.
Cyber terrorism may also become more attractive as the real world and virtual world begin to merge together. Successes in the “war on terror” will likely push terrorists to unconventional weapons, like cyber terrorism. Cyber terrorism is a key threat against the United States, whereby “American efforts are not strong enough” to combat cyber threats. Intelligence Gaps – What precautions have been established to protect against a cyber terrorism attack? – What are the indicators of a cyber terrorism attack? – What technological abilities do al-Qaeda and other terrorist cells have? How much money would it cost for a cyber attack to be carried out to completion? – How can Internet disturbances be better tracked? – If a cyber terror attack was carried out, who would prosecute the terrorists? Conclusion Cyber terrorism is a viable near-term threat to the national security of the United States. The threat of cyber terrorism is not new, but it’s considered an exaggerated threat by many. Cyber terrorists are creating increasingly clever methods and tools to attack computer systems and governments.
The reason the threat exists is due to the fact that the Internet offers little to no regulation, and the effects of an attack could be disastrous. The vulnerability for an attack is present in many vital systems throughout the United States, and the terrorists are becoming increasingly more capable of carrying out such attacks. The 9/11 attacks caught the United States by surprise. A cyber terrorism attack could also surprise the United States proper precautions are not in place. Executive Summary
The PA OAG assesses with medium confidence that the effects of a cyber terror attack would be crippling to the United States. The United States has become technology reliant, making the likelihood and impact of such an attack devastating. Pertinent systems through the United States would be affected from such an attack. Cyber terrorists aim for banking systems, water filtration systems and energy grids. The PA OAG assesses with medium confidence that the United States is both vulnerable to a cyber terror attack and capable to attack.
Computers are interconnected in a way that relevant systems are vulnerable to an attack. Targeted companies like energy companies have become highly vulnerable by creating links between networks. Terrorists have the capability and desire to attack the United States, as their technology and networking is equally as advanced. The PA OAG assesses with high confidence that the reality of a cyber terror attack is elevated. Attacks have already occurred within government systems by foreign entities, thus compromising national security data.
The PA OAG assesses with high confidence that the United States is unprepared for a cyber terror attack. The United States has failed to establish an updated workable law or treaty to combat cyber terror. The United States is on uncharted territory when addressing the reality of cyber terrorism. Works Cited Federal Bureau of Investigation definition. Cyber Terrorism. www. searchsecurity. com. 05 June 2007. Cyber Attack. www. yourdictionary. com/computer/cyberattack. 2010 February 04. Kosovo cyber war intensifies: Chinese hackers targeting U. S. ites. CNN. www. cnn. com/TECH/computing/9905/12/cyberwar. idg/. 1999 May 12. Cyberterrorism: How real is the threat?. United States Institute of Peace. December 2004. www. intelink. gov Cyber Terrorism: The Past, the Present, and the Future. Associated Content. 21 January 2010. Cyber Terrorism. Directions Media. October 2003. http://www. directionsmag. com/article. php? article_id=432 Cyber Terrorism: The Past, the Present, and the Future. Associated Content. 21 January 2010. Cyberterrorism. Georgetown University, Dorothy E. Denning. 23 May 2000.
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