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Cyber Threats: An Evolving and Pernicious Global Menace

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Writer: Vassilios Damiras Ph.D. (ABD)

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 world wide security stability. The growing dependency on the information technology (IT) makes cybersecurity a vital component of the U.S. national security infrastructure. Lately, data collection, processing, storage, transmission capabilities, mobile, wireless, and cloud computing are increasing in huge numbers and make cyber attacks easily to occur.


The evolution of cyber terrorism is identified in incidents and the range of actors and targets. In the last couple years American intelligence observed increased breadth and high sophistication of computer network operation (CNO) by both 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 cyber attacks or endanger the cyber environment of the global socio-political system. The 2011, Arab Spring revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya was successful to use cyberspace to pass its message. The authoritarian regimes were unable to block or even 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 were successful to deface websites to various governmental and corporate interests. They hacked NASDAQ and International Momentary Fund (IMF). Furthermore, hackers constantly are bypassing network security and target private companies that produce security technologies. Specifically, RIA was experienced a cyber attack in March 2011. The cyber intrusion obtained access to the companies algorithms, thus 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 various universities offer classes to teach students how to become hackers. These specific courses offer a letter grade “C” if a student hacks a dot com web site, a letter grade “B” if a student penetrates a dot org internet site, and a letter grade “A” if  a student access a dot mil site on the world wide web.


It is evident cyber terrorism is a fast growing terrorist phenomenon. D. Deming in her testimony before the Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism stated:


Cyber terrorism 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 cyber terrorism, 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, explosion, plane crashes, water contamination, or severe economic loss would be examples. Serious attacks against critical infrastructure could be acts of cyber terrorism, depending on their impact. Attacks that disrupt nonessential services or that are mainly a costly nuisance would not.


Her remarks strongly and clearly 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 internet and related technologies. Also they identify two critical strategic challenges regarding cyber terrorism: (1) the extreme difficulty of producing timely actionable warning of potential cyber attacks and (2) the extreme 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 its cyberspace for hackers emanating from non-state and state actors. The lack of seriously understanding the problem can endanger American political, economic, and military interests across the globe. It is imperative the United States to show leadership and face this complex predicament. Cyber terrorism is a clear and present danger for U.S. national security.


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