​Cyber Terrorism - The Final Frontier

By Nathan Lowe, Managing Director of ASI Solutions

A hospital staff member, expecting delivery of an online purchase, opens an email claiming to contain details of a parcel delivery. Instead, it delivers a virus. This malware virus is sitting dormant and undetected for months until its creator decides to unleash the terror.

Suddenly nurses and doctors are unable to access patient records on the hospital's computer network. In the emergency room and intensive care units, a once-esoteric technology issue poses a problem for the seriously ill where blood work, pathology results, and X-rays now stored online are suddenly unavailable. A message arrives from the creator of the virus. The hospital is held hostage, where a ransom payment will see the return of the patients' information. Welcome to the final frontier of cyber terrorism.

Cyber terrorism is the act of Internet terrorism in terrorist activities, including acts of deliberate, large-scale disruption of computer networks, especially those with internet capabilities, by the means of tools such as computer viruses. As the computer virus is not new, it is only becoming smarter.

Unlike a computer attack that results in ‘denial of service', a cyber terrorism attack is designed to cause harm, sometimes financial. It is also created to cause panic and fear. Cyber Terrorist targets could include the banking industry, military, power plants, air traffic control, and sewerage/water systems.

Cyber terrorism can be referred to as electronic terrorism or information warfare, but its location is in Cyberspace, where there are no borders or limits.

The New Terrorism Arena - Cyberspace

With a stroke of a keyboard, one can facilitate identity theft, computer viruses, hacking, use of malware, destruction, and manipulation of data. This use of the computer with a computer as a target, paint the ‘traditional' picture of cyber terrorism. As hacking into a computer has occurred since the early 1980s, there is now a convergence of terrorism and cyberspace, with the attack launched against Internet-connected systems and computers to generate fear.

With our computer-dependent society, it is easy to cause havoc within the anonymity of cyberspace. Cyber security has increased worldwide with businesses, governments and individual vulnerable to remote attack and misuse of data. Cyber security experts are worried about the crippling of major infrastructure and perhaps a nations' power system with a tap of a mouse.

Information and communications technology permeate much of the world's critical infrastructure and strengthen the global economy. Many are not winning this new war of cyber terrorism.

As we currently have internet capabilities in cars, a group of hackers took control of a Jeep. They took it for a drive along a US highway. Jeep's maker, Fiat Chrysler recalled 1.4 million vehicles for a security upgrade. It could have been more disastrous if someone had died in an accident.

The infamous Stuxnet virus targeted the Iranian nuclear program, which could have had potentially dangerous consequences for the population, and the neighbouring countries. The Stuxnet virus has also impacted computer networks controlling utilities in the United States, Indonesia, India, and Pakistan.

In Estonia, there were massive Cyber Terrorism attacks against the country's largest banks, newspapers, and schools. Estonia requested a ‘firm EU and NATO response to the new form of warfare.' Perhaps future wars are more likely to be fought in Cyberspace than on the battlefield.

Cyber Terrorism – The New Warfare

In the fast-changing world of cyberspace, information is being weaponised in unpredictable ways. Cyber-attacks are cheaper than armies. There are no borders or boundaries in regards to hacking.

There were concerns recently over the security of government information regarding the Australian Census. As Australians began filling out the Census online, with personal details being held on government systems for four years, many took issue especially when the Australian Bureau of Statistics was supposedly hacked with a ‘denial of service' on the actual night of August 9th.

The fear of sabotage, manipulation of information and even blackmail has come under fire through the surge in cyber-attacks across the globe.

Hackers in Russia have apparently struck to help Republican nominee Donald Trump. They have crossed the boundary to interfere in a state political process. The Democratic National Committee was hacked, and information embarrassing to Hillary Clinton was released by WikiLeaks, which in itself has caused problems with leaking other classified and unclassified information of governments and businesses worldwide.

Aside from Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, an ex-CIA officer, also released confidential information to the public domain. He is now in exile in Russia. Some say these two are cyber-terrorists, but others say they are ‘freedom fighters.' Whatever the case, intelligence agencies in Australia and the world, are being asked to protect against cyber-terrorist incidents, which is becoming increasingly complex and challenging.

Australia's commitment to developing Cyber Terrorism legislation began in 2001 when the Federal Government amended the Criminal Code Act to sanction the Cybercrime Act 2001 to incorporate new ‘Computer Offences'.

In April this year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged $230 million dollars over four years under the Cyber Security Strategy. He has admitted there were two major breaches in recent years, one on Federal Parliament's email system, the other on the Bureau of Meteorology.

Since 2015, there were other intrusions for Australia's major companies, such as David Jones and Kmart. Hackers stole their customer databases. The Royal Melbourne Hospital had a ransomware attack in its pathology department.

Industry pundits now agree that it is not a matter of whether a business will suffer a breach but when. The question is what strategies do you have in place to mitigate the impact of your breach.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags hackersABScyber wardata theftJeepcyber crimemalwaremalware attackshackingcyber securitycyber terrorism#censusfailvirusransomwaredata protectionphishing attacksRussian cybercrimeAustralian census

More about Australian Bureau of StatisticsBureau of MeteorologyDavid JonesEUFederal GovernmentNATORoyal Melbourne Hospital

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Nathan Lowe

Latest Videos

More videos

Blog Posts