Digital Terrorism


As a criminal law phenomenon, terrorism is global and, following several international instruments, is among the transnational crimes. In full measure, this also applies to new forms of its manifestation cyber terrorism or, as it is often called, digital terrorism. Moreover, its threat grows every year. Technical progress is developing so rapidly that some of its consequences are realized by society too late when significant efforts are needed to correct the situation. The introduction of modern information technologies, unfortunately, has led to the emergence of new types of crimes, such as computer crimes and terrorism, i.e. illegal interference in the operation of electronic computers, systems, and computer networks, theft, appropriation, and extortion of computer information. This study aims to research whether digital terrorism exists as a new form of terrorism that uses computers, electronic networks, and modern information technologies to achieve its goals. Due to its mechanism and ways of committing and concealing computer crimes, this criminal phenomenon has a certain specificity, characterized by a high level of latency and a low level of disclosure.

Keywords: digital terrorism, cybercrime, new technology, a criminal phenomenon

Does Digital Terrorism Exist?

Digital terrorism is a serious threat to humanity, comparable to nuclear, bacteriological, and chemical weapons. Historically, this criminal phenomenon was analyzed as an attempt by organized groups to use extreme methods to stop the development and progress of modern society (Rudner, 2013). It was introduced to the world community simultaneously with the emergence of the Internet in daily life. The experience that people already have in this area does the undoubted vulnerability of any state, especially since cyber terrorism is equally capable of threatening information systems located practically anywhere in the world. Law enforcement and national agencies have trouble detecting and neutralizing virtual terrorists because they leave a small amount of traces. Therefore, it is important to provide a further investigation of this phenomenon. The research question of this study is to identify whether digital terrorism exit results in entail massive human sacrifices, destroying spiritual, material and cultural values.

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Literature Review

The recent study provided by Archetti (2012) intends to clarify the connection between digital terrorism and global media. Thus, it is impossible to understand this criminal phenomenon without the awareness of the process of communication, which is represented by the media. The study reports that the threat of cyber terrorism is frightening today because modern society revolves around the Internet, e-commerce, and online banking (Archetti, 2012). Hackers have proved that it is not so difficult to get into computer networks and manage them at their discretion. As thus, cyber terrorists can gain access to important government data, as well as private computer systems. Oftentimes, mass media report about terrorist acts in such a way that they objectively create an information cover for abusers. Being an extremely dangerous way of political destabilization, terroristic attacks, with appropriate information coverage in the media, represent a powerful weapon. Thus, they often demonstrate the powerlessness of authorities to the public.

Discussions of digital terrorism have been fraught with several conceptual and empirical problems. The findings from the recent research have shown that digital terrorism is closely connected with radicalization, which suggests the process through which individuals become involved in terrorism (Bouchard, 2015). Furthermore, the author explains the reason for becoming radicalized. As a rule, it happens due to individuals’ marginalization and a shift from conventional society and to the extremist community. Bouchard (2015) believes that those who become radicalized have a certain vulnerability to extremist messages. Thus, it is believed that the second and the third generations of Muslim immigrants are a potential group for cyber terrorism. Therefore, Western-born children are distinguished from others by their bicultural identity that gives a strategic power for terrorism. The author offers empirical models for identifying a single extremist profile, trying to explain the nature of cyber terrorists.

The problem of digital terrorism encourages law enforcement and national agencies to develop numerous strategies to prevent threats. In this concern, Brenner (2012) reports that corporate or government professionals pay a great deal of attention to legal, political, and practical issues implicated by cybercrimes. The goal of law enforcement and government authorities is to find information about cybercriminals and state-sponsored hackers who launch these attacks. This study is about how the law applies to the two dominant types of cyber conflicts, i.e. cybercrime and cyberwarfare. Brenner (2012) suggests that the digital implementation of these threats makes the application of traditional law extremely problematic. Moreover, governmental control of cyber terrorism creates disincentives to break the law. This book illustrates how complicated it can be to apply laws against cybercriminals.

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Furthermore, digital terrorism, in its inhumanity and cruelty, has turned into one of the acutest problems of global significance. The viability of terrorism and its danger pose a colossal threat to the security of the entire world community, as terrorism inflicts tremendous damage to the system of values that defines human existence. Chen, Jarvis, and Macdonald (2014) suggest that there are two key problems related to digital terrorism. The first one involves the possibility to destroy national infrastructure with the help of computers and Internet technologies by terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. The second problem deals with the intention of digital terrorists to hack websites for political motives. Furthermore, Chen et al. indicate that digital terrorism is associated with cyber espionage (Chen et al., 2014, p. 24). To this concern, the authors try to determine what terrorist activity law enforcement identifies as acts of terrorism.

The recent study supports the idea that the rise of Internet technologies provides a possibility for individuals practiced in different activities to employ hacking tools to organize protests (Denning, 2015). So-called hacktivists have become commonplace, challenging national security and international affairs. Moreover, they often become the instrument of national power. The author indicates that this kind of digital terrorism has appeared in the late 1980s, introducing computer viruses and worms (Denning, 2015). Later, they were complemented by DoS attacks in the form of traffic floods or messages. Meanwhile, hacktivists continue to access websites changing their home pages or displaying pornographic images. Denning (2015) has shown that in the 21st century hacktivism turns into a common means of protest. As a rule, hacktivists are associated with anonyms but they are responsible for numerous digital attacks worldwide. Nevertheless, this term is used to distinguish different kinds of threats in cyberspace.

Furthermore, digital attacks on Critical National Infrastructure involve information systems, computer and telecommunication networks of state bodies, law enforcement, as well as corporate organizations and businesses. The functioning of cyber terrorists affects the fields of health, transport, communications, credit and finance, and so on. To illustrate this idea, Rudner (2013) reports in his study that such characteristics of the information space as transparency, openness, accessibility, and anonymity are attractive features in terms of opportunities for unlawful actions for criminal and terrorist purposes. Therefore, counteractions to these types of threats have become an important component of a set of measures to ensure information security at both the national and global levels. The author believes that the United States of America is one of the first countries that has developed a comprehensive strategy for cyberspace, which represents both scientific and practical interests (Rudner, 2013). At the international level, the United States is a key participant in multilateral negotiations on the whole range of cyber issues.

Discussion of Findings

Most findings suggest that digital terrorism is a form of unauthorized access to information placed on a particular computer or network implemented for the modification and destruction of data. Therefore, cyber terrorists create an environment in which the work of the computer or network goes beyond the framework stipulated by the standard operating conditions. As a result, it leads to the loss of life, property damage, or any socially dangerous consequences. In this case, unlike other forms of computer crimes, these actions pursue to put pressure on the authorities, forcing them to take decisions advantageous for terrorists. Moreover, they are targeted to destabilize the socio-political situation due to the intimidation of the population or encroachment on the personal security of a public figure. In addition, such activity may result in complications of international relations.

The global Internet network is constantly improving, introducing new services. This opens up not only additional opportunities for the development of the world community but also the emergence of many new global threats. At present, the problem of digital terrorism is especially relevant for the countries that lead in the use of satellite communication systems and global networks. According to experts, cyber terrorism is a serious threat to humanity comparable in effectiveness to weapons of mass destruction (Rudner, 2013). Indeed, no state in the world is fully protected from attacks by cyber-terrorists. As a rule, the main targets of criminals are government and diplomatic departments and scientific organizations of the most developed countries in the world.

The findings suggest that there are different methods of digital terrorism in the information space. Among them, the following are the most widespread: the destruction of power supply networks; use of special programs that stimulate the damage of hardware; theft or destruction of information, software, and technical resources of public significance; seizure of media channels to spread disinformation; and others (Brenner, 2012). Moreover, the activity of digital terrorists can be classified as activism, hackers, and cyber-terrorism. Thus, activism is the legitimate use of cyberspace to promote certain ideas; hacking is an attack conducted to disable individual computer networks or Internet sites, gaining access to sensitive information, theft of funds, etc.; and cyber terrorism deals with a computer attack designed to inflict maximum destruction of vital information infrastructure objects (Denning, 2015). The degree of damage increases from category to category, although its increase does not imply a growth of political efficiency.

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Nowadays, the threat of cyber terrorism is forcing various states to cooperate in the fight against it. In particular, this is the responsibility of international bodies and organizations such as the UN, the International Organization of Experts, and Interpol (Bouchard, 2015). The evidence has shown that the UN, primarily its main organs such as the General Assembly the Security Council, plays a central role in coordinating efforts in this area (Bouchard, 2015). Recently, several international legal documents on various aspects of the prevention of digital terrorism have been adopted within the framework of the UN and its agencies. The initiation in 2006 by the G8 countries of the development of updated international legal instruments against cyber terrorism gave an important signal to the entire world community and led to the creation of national and interstate units to combat it (Archetti, 2012). Thus, these tools include a collection of data on cybercrime, expert assessments of Internet threats, and the development and implementation of advanced methods for the prevention and investigation of cybercrime.

Opinions and Conclusions

The research question of this study encourages to determine that digital terrorism exists because its consequences entail massive human sacrifices, destroying spiritual, material, and cultural values. In this concern, law enforcement and national agencies aim to create a cybersecurity framework that should involve not only one-time solutions but also long-term legal, organizational, and technical measures and actions to prevent threats to information integrity. According to the research, the World Wide Web is an ideal environment for digital terrorist activities, since access to it is extremely easy and nobody can control them. Therefore, if there are no laws, it will be impossible to cope with this criminal phenomenon. To conduct a successful information policy, the authorities must follow anti-terrorism digital programs.

Digital terrorism is extremely dangerous for government data and private computer systems because it creates an information cover for terrorists through the media. Therefore, to combat digital terrorism, a state needs to skillfully manage information flows through the establishment of constructive cooperation with the mass media. Accordingly, digital terrorism provides several serious challenges to the public. The internal nature of cyber attacks makes it almost impossible to predict or track them in real-time. Therefore, a digital attack can begin at any time, at home or abroad, and it may be initiated by thrill-seeking youngsters, hostile countries, criminals, spies, and terrorists. Therefore, it may take considerable resources to determine with a high degree of certainty who is responsible for digital crimes.

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