Security analysts who specialize in tracking terrorist groups
like al-Qaida are expressing increasing concern that such organizations
may use cyber-terrorism as a way to launch attacks inside the
United States and other countries. They warn that computers
can be used to severely damage critical infrastructure and
have the potential to cause widespread bloodshed.
Security specialists say the United States and many other
countries are now exposed to a host of terrorist threats
from cyberspace, as the world's most developed nations increasingly
rely on millions of computer networks and the Internet to
run critical infrastructure.
A study released earlier this year by the White House says
the primary concern is the danger of organized cyber attacks
that could have devastating consequences for a wide variety
of human and economic targets.
Wayne Crews is the director of technology policy at the
CATO Institute, a non-profit public-policy research foundation
based in Washington.
Mr. Crews says the U.S. government and the private sector have
become so dependent on computers and the Internet that they
are very vulnerable to cyber-terrorism.
"Well I think we do have a problem," he said. "The nature
of the beast now is that we have a public Internet that the
private sector, for both good and bad, has opted to opt into.
We are relying on it for our banking, commerce and everything.
We do have vulnerabilities there. There are key networks,
electrical grids and others that have openings to the Internet
and vise-versa, so we do have these potential vulnerabilities
where the Net can be attacked and we can face some kinds
Dan Verton is the author of a recently published book called Black
Ice, the Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism.
A retired intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps,
Mr. Verton says many people have what he calls a "perception
problem" when thinking about who belongs to terrorist organizations.
Mr. Verton says the new, young terrorists are, as a puts
it, not a "mindless horde of thugs living a hand-to-mouth
existence in caves in Afghanistan."
The problem is that we have failed to acknowledge that tomorrow's
threat may not look like today's threat," said Dan Verton. "There
is a real concern about the radicalization of young people
around the world by the likes of Osama bin Laden and his supporters
where these young people are getting a healthy dose of hatred
for America on one hand, and, oh by the way, they are also
being taught computer science, mathematics, and engineering."
It is those highly trained young terrorists, Mr. Verton
says, that pose the biggest threat to America's infrastructure.
"The forms of terrorism that I am talking about, both the
use of modern technology to complement traditional forms
of terrorism and also the deliberate targeting in a physical
sense of key cyber infrastructures that power the economy
and national security, fit in perfectly with the strategic
goals of groups like al-Qaida and others," he said.
A senior analyst with the Internet company Global Security.org,
George Smith, is less critical of the government's efforts
to make information technology more secure.
Mr. Smith says reports of cyber-threats are frequently accepted
without serious evaluation.
"I have to be a realist that we have not seen any direct
physical attacks that rise to the level that fit the long-term
prognostications of the doomsayers," said George Smith.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is taking the threat
seriously. Officials in the department have created a National
Cyber Security Division that operates 24-hours a day, seven
days a week.
Workers there are constantly monitoring cyberspace, issuing
alerts and warnings, and preparing to respond to major incidents
that could threaten the nation's economic and physical security.