Internet and terrorism
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The Internet is an electronic media that has been used to foster terror related activities by helping terrorist organizations to communicate with and spread propaganda to other internet users, often This medium allows information to be easily distributed to those seeking conversion to a particular ideology. The activities include promotion of terror manifestos and ideology, attracting recruitment, psychological warfare, deceptions, communication and networking, fundraising, and attacks on the networks of security authorities.
Publicity and propaganda
As stated by terrorism researcher Maura Conway:
"Every machine connected to the internet is potentially a printing press, a broadcasting station or place of assembly."
The Internet is an unparalleled media suite. Terrorists no longer have to have their messages diluted and edited by the media. Instead they can disseminate information of their choice to aid their causes. In most cases, this is achieved by the terrorists focusing on their grievances in order to justify why they are resorting to terrorist activities. This is usually achieved by the publication of various articles combined with pictures galleries, although this may be supplemented by video and audio files in which the terrorists themselves orally defend their actions. An example of this would be a gallery of atrocities against innocent civilians in Iraq supposedly carried out by foreign forces in order to generate local as well as international support for the terrorists.
Majority of terrorist websites don't celebrate their heinous acts or destruction, however they do focus on two issues: the restrictions placed on freedom of expression and the plight of comrades who are now political prisoners. They also employ three rhetorical structures that justify their reliance on violence: 1) Terrorists have no other choice than to turn violent, 2) Members, who are allegedly classified as being 'freedom fighters', are obligated to commit violence because of the ruthless aggression brought upon by their adversary, and 3) To make extensive use of the language of nonviolence.
The first type of cyber terrorism created by Al-Qaeda was the Al-Neda Center for Islamic Study and Research which was created by the former bodyguard of Bin Laden, Shaykh Youssef al-Ayyiri. He created an Al-Qaeda propaganda video on the internet which had several audio messages from al-Ayyiri in which he stated: “In the first stage, the stage of attrition and engaging the enemy in battle, you need to make your enemy tired more than you need to kill a large number of its members. You need to scatter the enemy, demoralize it, spread it out over a large area, and cause it to get tired. If the enemy is spread out, it will need supply armies and a lot of other things. You need to make the enemy reach this stage. In this stage, you should strike, run, and disappear. Strike at the weak points." (As-Sahab Media Foundation 2003) Also he wrote a book which was published on the Al-Neda Center for Islamic Study and Research site. Thus, Ayyiri, in creating the propaganda video and the book, did, in fact, cyber terrorism acts by trying to recruit more individuals for the cause, and giving instruction for potential terrorists on attacks.
The use of disinformation by terrorist groups is often used to incite fear, panic and hatred by sending threats, airing videos of brutal executions, creating psychological attacks through the use of threats of cyber-terrorism. Disinformation has been used successfully to incite violence by certain militant groups.
Disinformation may also be used to divert attention from an impending attack by releasing details of a hoax attack so that governmental and law enforcement agencies are side-tracked. However, this may not be wholly effective given the nature of current security climates; that is upon receiving information on a potential attack, the security level on all spectrums across a whole country is increased i.e. from black to black special or similar.
Terrorist groups have made full use of the Internet’s ability to create funds; whether legitimately or otherwise. The main methods that the terrorists achieve this is by:
Goods selling: merchandise that is directly related to the terrorist organisation, for example, CDs, DVDs and books from the LTTE.
Website and email based appeals: sending emails to sympathizers who registered interest on a group’s website, posting messages on newsgroups/forums and their own websites that give directions as to how and where donations can be made.
Deception: using seemingly legitimate charities or businesses that unknown to the donator, directs the funds to terrorist organisations.
Terrorist organisations are able to monitor users who browse their websites, capture their profile and information about them and if deemed possibly useful to their cause, are contacted. This grooming process starts from when the user begins to absorb the propaganda on the website, for example the often discussed "charismatic" style of delivery that Osama Bin Laden employs on his video messages. Perhaps motivated by this video, the user seeks answers to questions and goes to internet chat-rooms and discussion boards. Possible recruits are spotted by lurking recruiters who through gradual encouragement of discussion of religious issues to gradually including more political discussions. This grooming leads the recruits to become more and more entangled in terrorist related discussions and are led through a maze of private chat-room’s until personal indoctrination occurs which is often through the use of the secure software
With the proliferation of online platforms and access, terrorist organizations are also increasingly distributing propaganda aimed at encouraging extremists to "self-radicalize" and then providing them directions and suggestions for carrying out attacks in the West.
The audiences of the terrorist websites
The first group of people that will frequent these websites are current supporters and future supporters. The websites typically include information relative to their activities, their allies, and their competitors. In addition, many websites offer items for sale.
The second group of people that will enter these websites will be members of the outside community. In hopes of appealing to people all over the world, many terrorist organizations offer their websites in multiple languages. The websites typically include historical background information and general information about the organization itself.
Only some of the websites address the enemy or citizens of a country currently under attack by terrorists. The terrorists hope weaken public support within countries and in some cases will threaten attacks if the government fails to do as they ask.
Communication and networking
Terrorist groups have changed recently from having a clearly defined hierarchy in the organisations with designated leaders, to having multiple, semi-independent cells with no clear distinct leader in order to allow them to remain hidden. The Internet facilitates communication between cells which allows exchange of information and manuals. It has also helped terrorist groups gain notoriety from other groups such as 'jihadist' sites.
The Internet also assists with internal communication within a cell, particularly in relation to the planning of attacks. To avoid being detected and targeted by security forces, Messages are often sent by conspirators through emails which are often sent using public email systems such as Hotmail and Yahoo and may also be sent from public libraries and internet cafes. Chat rooms may also be used for this purpose.
In addition, steganography may be used to hide information embedded within graphic files on websites. Graphic files may also used to send very subtle messages, such as reversing the orientation of a gun graphic may indicate that the next stage of a plan is to proceed. Other methods of concealing instructions and messages may be through the use of coded language, such as that used by Mohamed Atta's final email to the other terrorists who carried out the attacks of 9/11 is reported to have read:
The semester begins in three more weeks. We've obtained 19 confirmations for studies in the faculty of law, the faculty of urban planning, the faculty of fine arts, and the faculty of engineering.
This is believed to be in reference to the four targets that the planes were planned to strike; 'architecture' being the World Trade Center, 'arts': the Pentagon, 'law': the Capitol and 'politics': the White House.
An even more secure method of communication is that which involves using one-time anonymous public email accounts; two terrorists who wish to communicate to open 30 anonymous email accounts whose usernames and passwords are known by each side. To communicate, one terrorist creates a web-based email and instead of sending it, saves it as a draft online. The "recipient" then logs onto this account, reads this message and deletes. The next day, a new account is used; this increases the difficulty of traceability of the users.
Website defacement and propaganda
Website defacement is used by a number of terror organizations to promote propaganda messages. Junaid Hussain, a British computer hacker who was jailed in 2012 for hacking Tony Blair's accounts, was suspected of masterminding the defacing of the Twitter pages of the U.S. Central Command, Newsweek and the International Business Times. Hussain was placed on the Pentagon's "kill list" and was taken out by a drone strike.
During the January 2015 Île-de-France attacks a number of French municipalities had their websites defaced with terrorist propaganda. The French TV network TV5Monde was targeted by a cyberattack that compromised their network in April 2015.
The American media has often run alarmist stories about large-scale cyber-terror attacks shutting down the whole internet.
Several academics that study terrorist groups argue that they utilize the Internet to communicate and collaborate, and therefore the terrorists have stronger reasons to keep it up and running. – see section entitled Disinformation.
A large amount of public information is available on the internet, including publicly available maps and building details that could be searched for by a person planning a terror attack. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003 that an al Qaeda training manual recovered in Afghanistan tells its readers that "Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80 percent of all information required about the enemy."
- Al-Qaeda § Internet
- Homegrown terrorism § Role of the internet
- Jihadist extremism in the United States § Internet
- Terrorism and social media
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