Cyber terrorism implications discussion


Information and network security as well as cyber terrorism cause extreme challenges that now pose a threat to not only private information, but also national security. Cyber terrorism is the use of computer networking to bring down essential national infrastructures such as government operations, energy, and transportation installations. It is also aimed at intimidating either a civilian population or an entire government. The principle behind cyber-terrorism is that as basic infrastructure and countries become more dependent on computer networks in order to operate efficiently, they face new vulnerabilities. A hostile group or country could explore such vulnerabilities to enter a poorly secured network and interrupt or bring down important infrastructure (Buchan, 2010).

Cyber terrorism would be an attractive option for modern day terrorists who hold in high esteem its level of anonymity, media appeal, and potential to mete out massive damage, as well as its psychological effect. However, cyber fears have been a little bit exaggerated. Cyber attacks on essential parts of the national infrastructure are common but terrorist groups have not instigated them. Apart from that, they have not sought after inflicting the kind of damage that would be termed as cyber terrorism (Collin, 2012).

Even though cyber-terrorism phobia and mania may endure exaggeration and even manipulation by analysts and the press, it cannot be denied or ignored. It is believed that the success on the war against terrorist groups could make them to rapidly turn on to cybercrime, for instance, cyber terrorism. In addition, as a more computer savvy and robust cohort of terrorists comes of age, the danger is likely to increase (Holland, 2011).


Cyber Attacks Versus Routine Failure

The protection of critical infrastructure portents a new set of challenges for national security. No country can accept any attack on interrupted service or essential infrastructure. If cyber attacks do not cause damages that rise above the standard of routine disruptions experienced in every economy, it is of no significant threat to national security. On a national level where hundreds or even dozens of various systems offer essential infrastructure, services failure is considered to be routine in nature. Cyber terrorists need to launch massive multiple and escalated attacks in order to create terror, obtain strategic objectives, or have a perceptible impact. For major essential infrastructure, multiple sustained attacks are not feasible for terrorists or hackers.

Mass Annoyance

Cyber terrorists mostly target dams utilized for power generation and water storage. It is believed that if an intruder disables and compromises security systems commanding a dam’s floodgates or its substations that commands over 200,000 electric power voltage, he could shut up an entire nation. This is because he could employ virtual tools to demolish property worth millions and many lives. A cyber terrorist needs to carry out multiple sustained attacks in order to gain any premeditated benefits (Collin, 2012).

Cyber weapons would only be attractive to terrorists if they are carried out concurrently with physical attacks. For instance, in a case where they compromise a water supply system’s network, the attack could be severe if they also cause fires and deny firefighters access to the water. Most cyber attacks are more of an annoyance than destruction. This is because they may disrupt power supply but not at levels observed for a physical attack (Holland, 2011).

A recent internet attack illustrated the implication of cyber attacks vulnerabilities. In October 2002, for a period spanning one hour, anonymous individuals launched a distributed service denial attack on thirteen root servers that form the foundation of domain systems that govern internet addresses. The attack had no impact on users since it was invisible. Eight out of the thirteen root servers were shut as a consequence of the attack. Internet performance was not degraded due to the attack on the DNS system. This is because DNS data required for daily internet operations undergo daily updates and are stored locally. Very few requests need assistance from root servers. Apart from that, the fact that five root servers out of thirteen survived that attack means that DNS servers are not susceptible to attacks (Whiteback, 2013).

On the other hand, many users in the western USA experienced critical delays immediately after the attack because their service providers faced routing challenges. Although the DNS attack disrupted services, it had no impact on national security. As much as the internet may have a few cases of failure, it was designed to be a full-bodied communications network that is able to continue with communications even after strategic nuclear exchanges. Internet protocols and packet switching were harnessed to sustain communication even after eliminating certain nodes in the network. Apart from that, computer networks depend on high capacity communications that are somehow secure from cyber attacks. Survivability has also been enhanced by the introduction of new technologies (Whitelaw, 2009).

Mixed Reactions

Most, if not all, economic and manufacturing activities are rapidly becoming dependent on computer networks. Industrial and cyber espionage have become new threats to these economic activities. However, mixed reactions continue to be reported from the corporate sector concerning the impact of these attacks. In 2001, a virus infected over 900 computers at Ford Motors. Ford received over 130,000 emails that were contaminated with viruses before pulling down its network, but the company reported that only limited damage was caused by the attack (Keith, 2005).

On the other hand, in July 2013, five men including four Russians and one Ukrainian were indicted in a New Jersey court for swindling over $300,000,000. This entailed a well-orchestrated cybercrime syndicate that took place in a period spanning five years: from 2005 to 2012. The men allegedly compromised the network systems of several companies including Hannaford, NASDAQ, Dow Jones, 7-eleven and JCP (Web). The Attorney General who prosecuted this case asserted that this crime was a threat to both the economic welfare, the privacy of individuals, as well as national security (Whiteback, 2013).


Evaluation of cases of this nature in relation to cyber terrorism has been complicated by the inclination to primarily attribute cyber occurrences to terrorist activities when their real source is few individual hackers. When in 1990 the US DOD network system was compromised, everyone in the government pointed a finger to China or Iraq and even prepared for war as these were potential threats. However, further investigations determined that the source of the attack were two idle high school students in California. It has become challenging to know if the real source of cybercrime is terrorists, bored teenagers, foreign states, or criminals. Nonetheless, a survey of its occurrences has consistently indicated that bored teenagers and criminals are the potential sources of these attacks. Since vulnerability to cybercrime is likely to increase as societies move into more computer settings, there is a need for everyone to take precautions to avoid the loss of personal data that could lead to huge financial losses.




Buchan, Glenn C., (2010). Implications of Information Vulnerabilities for Military Operations, in Khalilzad and White, The Changing Role of Information in Warfare, Rand. 17,408-417

Collin, B., (2012). The Future of Cyberterrorism, Crime and Justice International, 43, 15-18

Holland, J. (2011). Investigators look into how library computers may have linked terrorists. South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Miami, FL.15 (30), 4-12

Keith Bradsher, (May 8, 2005) “With Its E-Mail Infected, Ford Scrambled and Caught Up,” The New York Times, 132, 27-32.

Whiteback, C. (2013). Virtual environments: Ethical issues and significant confusions. Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 2, 147-152.

Whitelaw, K. (2009). Terrorists on the Web: Electronic ‘Safe Haven’. US News & World Report, 124, 46-48.

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