By Cat Cronin, Researcher at Talking About Terrorism.
1. The FBI defines cyberterrorism as a "premeditated, politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs and data which results in violence against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” Similar to terrorism, the goal of cyberterrorism is to cause mass panic and fear.
2. 81% of Americans see cyberterrorism as a critical threat. This percentage is higher than in 2016 when 73% of Americans thought it was a major threat. Democrats and Republicans are equally as concerned. Cyberterrorism is considered the second most critical threat to our country, just behind the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea.
3. There has not been as much cyberterrorism activity performed directly by terrorist organizations as the U.S. predicted. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the challenge of finding experienced hackers, and the concern that cyber-attacks may not cause the same level of fear and chaos as traditional terrorism.
4. However, that’s not to say terrorist organizations have completely avoided cyberterrorism. Al-Qaeda is one organization which engages with it to further its agenda. As the group becomes more interested in the tactic, it is making an effort to recruit people with strong computer and hacking skills.
5. Furthermore, in 2015, ISIS’ CyberCaliphate hacked into the U.S. Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts and posted threats and pro-ISIS messages. The Central Command oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East.
6. In September 2018, the White House published the first National Cyber Strategy in 15 years, which offers guidelines for how the U.S. should respond to cyber-attacks, including cyberterrorism.
7. In response to the National Cyber Strategy, the U.S. Department of Defense released a 5-point plan to execute the strategy. It includes building a more lethal force, competing and deterring in cyberspace, strengthening alliances and finding new partners, reforming the DOD to become more “cyber fluent” and accountable, and cultivating talent relating to cyber capabilities.
8. The American military view cyberterrorism as the greatest threat to U.S. national security. 89% of the military believes that it is a significant or very significant concern. There is also apprehension over U.S. preparedness for a cyber-attack, and only 13% strongly support current efforts. About a third disapprove of current policies on combatting cyberterrorism.
9. Ardit Ferizi was the first person to be convicted of cyberterrorism in the U.S. In 2015, Ferizi knowingly gave data of 1,300 U.S. military personnel and federal employee to ISIS, to target in terrorist attacks. He obtained the information by hacking into a protected computer and stealing the data. Initially, Ferizi stole data from 100,000 people and sorted through it to find the “identities of U.S. federal employees and military service members.”
10. In 2017, British teenager Kane Gamble targeted CIA, FBI, and Department of Justice databases. He was convicted of engaging in cyberterrorism against the U.S. after obtaining sensitive documents on American military and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Gamble impersonated people to get confidential information. He later leaked some of the information on the internet, including details of 20,000 FBI employees.