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What is Cyberterrorism?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Terrorism is defined as the unlawful use of or the threat of the use of force or violence against people or property by a person or an organized group that intends to intimidate or coerce. During armed conflict, terrorism is considered to be attacks on persons who are not actively involved in armed hostilities in an attempt to spread terror among civilians. In either case, the motivation behind terrorism often stems from ideological, religious, or political motivations or goals. In general, cyberterrorism, also called information war or electronic terrorism, is a term coined by security expert Barry C. Collin to the illegal use of computers and/or the Internet in the pursuit of a terrorist agenda or as the target of a terrorist’s agenda.

There are specific definitions of cyberterrorism issued by various governments and their agencies. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation definition states that cyberterrorism refer to a “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." According to the FBI, cyberterrorism is meant to cause physical violence or extreme financial distress. The U.S. Commission of Critical Infrastructure Protection identifies power plants, air traffic control, the banking industry, water systems, and military installations as likely targets.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has offered its own definition in 2008. NATO defined cyberterrorism as “a cyber attack using or exploiting computer or communication networks to cause sufficient destruction or disruption to generate fear or to intimidate a society into an ideological goal.” This definition differs from the U.S. definition in proposing that cyberterrorism is launched using computers and communications networks, whereas the other posits them as the targets of the attacks, but it has been argued that both should apply.

In 2008, IMPACT (International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber-Terrorism) was formed as a public-private initiative to guide collaboration among academics, governments, industry, and cyber-security experts in fighting cyberterrorism. It is partnered with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and its 191 member countries and supports the ITUs seven strategic goals that make up its Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA).

In March 2010, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller reported at a conference that not only is the threat of cyberterrorism real but that it is rapidly expanding. Institutions such as Utica College are responding. Utica College is developing a new master’s degree program in Cybersecurity—Intelligence and Forensics to meet the growing need for cybersecurity and protection from cyberterrorism.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for EasyTechJunkie, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By bluespirit — On Aug 27, 2011

@saraq90 - I agree with you, it is reassuring to hear that steps are already being taken to acknowledge and learn more about cyberterrorism and security measures.

My husband has a company and he was not necessarily worried about cyberterrorism but just keeping his company's information secure. And I ran into a site that was called the Counter Threat Institute.

This site advertised a company of professionals with such backgrounds as intelligence and the military. I was intrigued and I read further and realized that they provided anti-terrorism among other services. I had no idea such companies were out there!

Makes me wonder at what rate computer security jobs are increasing!

By Saraq90 — On Aug 26, 2011

It is so interesting to learn about cyberterrorism because of the pictures we have seen of terrorism such as terrorist leaders hiding out in caves. It does not seem in such circumstances that they are a cyber-threat.

Then I started seeing reports about how terrorists communicated online, and I realized that I had quite the misconception about the circumstances.

With how much we depend on computers and technology, it was great to read in this article that universities and our government are taking such initiatives to protect against cyber warfare.

By David09 — On Aug 25, 2011

@nony - Yes, there is always the possibility that a cyber terrorist could completely take out our grid and disrupt us for awhile.

It’s not just the government networks that could be disrupted – it’s the electrical grid too.

Remember what happened in Iran. Iran’s nuclear reactors were taken out by this very smart, rogue virus named Stuxnet. It attacked Iran's nuclear facilities and supposedly set back their nuclear program by two years.

Could such a similar virus attack our nuclear facilities or electrical grid? I believe it could. Of course, I believe that we could recover, but it would do a lot of damage in the meantime.

By nony — On Aug 25, 2011

I have always found it a bit ironic that some companies hire former hackers to help them fight cyber warefare threats.

It’s not often in military conflicts that you actively try to recruit your enemy; sometimes you have defectors, but these could always be double agents.

However, hackers represent a goldmine to these companies, because they know through experience the weaknesses that exist in a security system.

From what I’ve seen and heard, we have a lot of weaknesses in our security apparatus, not only in corporations but in the government computer networks as well. I tend to think that the government networks would be more vulnerable to attacks, however.

By sunshine31 — On Aug 25, 2011

I am sure with all of the terrorist threats that we hear about in the news, there must be a huge demand for people with Cybersecurity experience. I think that a field like this is fantastic to break into because the demand will be high for years to come and so will the earning potential.

I also find that the work must be really fascinating because you are always learning new techniques and procedures to keep information safe that most people don’t know about. You are also indispensable as many executives in the company will come to rely on you. I think that this type of job probably offers a lot of job satisfaction as well.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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