Cyber-Terrorism in a Post-Stuxnet World

Abstract

Recent cyber-attacks such as Stuxnet and Anonymous’ increasingly aggressive digital activism have rekindled fears that cyber-terrorism is an imminent threat. However, the concept remains poorly understood. Confusion over cyber-terrorism stems, in part, from recent attempts to stretch the concept to include hacktivism and terrorists’ use of the Internet to facilitate conventional terrorism. Although the United States and other countries have experienced thousands of cyberattacks in recent years, none have risen to the level of cyber-terrorism. This article seeks to dial down the rhetoric on cyber-terrorism by explaining how it differs from cyber-attacks, cyber-warfare, hacktivism, and terrorists’ use of the Internet. The most immediate online threat from non-state terrorists lies in their ability to exploit the Internet to raise funds, research targets, and recruit supporters rather than engage in cyber-terrorism. Cyber-terrorism may well occur in the future, but for now online crime, hacktivism, and cyber-warfare are more pressing virtual dangers.

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