Monday, February 09, 2009

Why Are There No Internet Terrorist Attacks?

Strategy Page posted an analysis of the fact that we have not seen a significant Internet based terrorist attack:
"The Internet Jihad (struggle) has been mostly smoke, and very little fire.

"Attempts by terrorists to recruit hackers have had very poor results. There are a growing number of programmers and Internet specialists in the Moslem world, but most of them have legitimate jobs in software firms, or maintaining software and Internet services for companies."

The article also rightly points out that what little activity we have seen has been ineffective and isolated:

"At most, there have been some defacing of web pages, often by hackers driven more by nationalism than religion."

The post goes on to explain categorically why:

"Counter-terrorism organizations know why there have not been more of these attacks by al Qaeda, or any other self-proclaimed Islamic warriors. The fact is that the Islamic terrorists are not nearly as well organized or skilled as the mass media would lead you to believe."
The premise that we are not seeing major cyber terrorist attacks is correct but I disagree with the conclusion. The potential of the Internet is the fact that it does not take a lot of organization to exploit it's strengths (positively or negatively). This is why an individual or small (unorganized) group can have a presence and voice on the world stage. As the article points out, "there are Cyber War tools available that even the poorly educated terrorist computer user could operate."

If a group has the organization to recruit a suicide bomber, they have at least the potential to launch a cyber attack. Furthermore, if the almost chaotic organization of various hacktivist protesters can launch (mostly ineffective) cyber attacks then most terrorist organizations could do at least the same; and that's the key - the effectiveness of these types of attacks.

A more likely explanation is that they choose not to use them for the same reason that they choose not to carry out low-level physical attacks - only a large, physical attack causes the damage groups such as al-Qaeda believe furthers their cause - creating fear and inspiring their followers. Even the best DDoS attack would only cause temporary outages. It might gain some headlines (which the hacktivist is happy to have) but would hardly inspire uneducated Jihadists in the slums of Middle East cities to rise up.

Terrorists groups do see the power of the Internet for communication, intelligence gathering and propaganda and will continue to use it for these purposes. Only if they truly believe a cyber attack will further their cause will they be motivated to carry one out. Even then, it won't have the same impact as a physical attack - inconvenience does not translate to fear.

What Happened To The Internet Jihad?

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