Cybercrime and Real World Terrorism: Strange Bedfellows?

Cybercrime and Real World Terrorism: Strange Bedfellows?

Written by Scott Hall on . Posted in Computer Security

We know the impact of cyber-crime as it relates to every day users. Credit card theft, sensitive personal data stolen, and much more have been attributed to so-called ‘cyber terrorists’. Is it then possible that more ‘conventional’ terrorists would be interested to use similar tactics? This may sound extreme, especially due to the limited and reversibility nature of the impact of certain cybercrime tactics and the precautions that forewarned businesses and organizations can take. However, it is difficult to brush off the threat in an external inspection of both the dynamics and methodology of these types of attacks, and the tools used to perpetrate them.
Conventional terrorists–regardless of ideology have engaged in the digital space for any number of reasons, most having been born of necessity. For things like covert communication, recruitment, propaganda, transferring illicit funds undetected, and, most importantly, sharing amongst a geographically dispersed command structure. Information disseminated in the cyber space also includes target assessments for real-world terrorist acts, and tactical assignments.

However, this could change with increasing technical competency and capability for network-based attacks and growing number of bad actors in the online community. Opportunity for online interaction and training has compensated terrorists the loss of physical space for such activities on the ground. Current social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among others, provide platforms not only to share information and expertise but also practice it in virtual space. It’s simply a foregone conclusion that funding terrorist acts, either directly or via support and logistical infrastructure, through cybercrime and ransomware is ongoing.
Ransomware tools like WannaCry and others have the potential to reduce the opportunity cost for conventional terrorist attacks as well. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have demonstrated much interest along with some capability to develop and use chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons (CBRN), and while there has been no successful mass casualty terrorist attacks involving them, there is the concern that these groups might lose control over the consequences of such an attack, in such that they could affect the members of the communities they are purportedly fighting for. However, use of weapons of “mass disruption” like ransomware as against weapons of “mass destruction” will enable terrorists to cause large-scale damage (loss of data and equipment), chaos (in hospitals and other public utilities) and fear, while simultaneously filling their coffers. Imagine the impact if terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS were involved in WannaCry attack. For terrorists, it’s a win-win tactic as they can achieve almost similar attention and without firing a shot or exploding a bomb, all without garnering the attention of conventional law enforcement and military tactics used in stopping them.

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