Vassilios Damiras, Ph.D.

International Relations Expert

Cyber threats are the new security dilemma of the twenty-first century. These kinds of high-tech attacks threaten to destroy or severely damage critical global economic interests and undermine worldwide security stability. The growing dependency on information technology (IT) makes cybersecurity a vital component of the U.S. national security infrastructure. Data collection, processing, storage, transmission capabilities, mobile, wireless, and cloud computing are increasing rapidly, making cyberattacks quickly.

The evolution of cyberterrorism is identified in incidents and the range of actors and targets. In the last few years, American intelligence has observed increased breadth and high sophistication of computer network operations (CNO) by non-state and state actors. The main targets are global governmental and non-governmental targets such as multinational corporations and financial centers.

Non-state actors have the technology to create cyberattacks or endanger the cyber environment of the global socio-political system. The 2011 Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya successfully used cyberspace to pass its message. The authoritarian regimes could not block or destroy the revolutionaries’ internet sites. Moreover, hacker groups, such as Anonymous and Lulz Security (Lulz Sec), have executed distributed denial of service (DDOS). Under that process, they successfully defaced websites to various governmental and corporate interests. They hacked the NASDAQ and the International Momentary Fund (IMF).
Furthermore, hackers constantly bypass network security and target private companies that produce security technologies. Specifically, RIA experienced a cyberattack in March 2011. The cyber intrusion obtained access to the company’s algorithms and captured vital data of various U.S. defense contractors.

On a state level, China and Russia are constantly engaging in cyber warfare, mainly targeting various U.S. military and economic interests across the globe. In China, multiple universities offer classes to teach students how to become hackers. These specific courses provide a letter grade of “C” if a student hacks a dot com website, a letter grade of “B” if a student penetrates a dot org internet site, and a letter grade of “A” if a student accesses a dot mil site on the world wide web.
Cyberterrorism is a fast-growing terrorist phenomenon. D. Deming, in her testimony before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism, stated:

Cyberterrorism is the convergence of terrorism and cyberspace. It is generally understood to mean unlawful attacks and threats of attacks against computers, networks, and the information stored therein when done to intimidate or coerce a government or its people in furtherance of political or social objectives. Further, to qualify as cyberterrorism, an attack should result in violence against persons or property or at least cause enough harm to generate fear. Attacks that lead to death or bodily injury, explosions, plane crashes, water contamination, or severe economic loss would be examples. Serious attacks against critical infrastructure could be cyberterrorism, depending on their impact. Attacks that disrupt nonessential services or are mainly a costly nuisance would not.

Her remarks strongly indicated the seriousness of the cyber menace. The various U.S. intelligence agencies assess that the cyber threat will continue to grow due to the fast evolution and development of the internet and related technologies. Also, they identify two critical strategic challenges regarding cyberterrorism:

(1) the extreme difficulty of producing timely actionable warnings of potential cyberattacks and

(2) the highly complex vulnerability associated with the IT supply chain for various U.S. networks.

Therefore, the U.S. government needs to research and develop new ways to protect cyberspace from hackers emanating from both non-state and state actors. The lack of profound understanding of the problem can endanger American political, economic, and military interests across the globe. The United States must show leadership and face this complex predicament. Cyberterrorism is a clear and present danger to U.S. national security.

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