The internet - a new weapon for terrorists
The era of the internet has revealed over the previous years of the real dangers associated by the use of it by terrorist groups that have managed to gain strength and much valuable information for their attacks.
The attack in Madrid in 2004 and the subsequent police investigation revealed a network of people in Spain who coordinated attacks via the Internet. Sites were maintained in different European languages and guided their actions through coded messages. Alongside the terrorists collected a huge amount of information on issues that can easily be found in a search on the Internet, such as public transport routes, locations of police departments, major social events and more.
The 9/11 attack was made possible by the internet and the 19 terrorists used it particularly for their internal communication and the intersection of data relating to the airports and aircrafts they aimed to target. Even the quantity of the aircraft fuel could be used to calculate the attack on the Twin Towers. According to the views of most Americans analysts on security issues, attacks of such magnitude could not be possible without the use of the global electronic web.
A report by the institute of homeland security of the George Washington University relays that the Internet has become crucial instrument in the hands of terrorists to spread their messages and recruit new supporters.
According to the report terrorist organizations around the world are increasingly using the Internet to attract new fighters, sympathizers and financial supporters and the American government has not paid enough attention to deal with this problem in the cyberspace. The report was submitted in May 2007 to the Committee of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate.
Basically the Internet is the most asymmetrical weapon in the hands of terrorists and it multiplies their operational capability and global reach.
The past five years the Internet has evolved even further through the application of Web 2, which can be expressed as the possibility of interactive communication in real time. This dramatically increases the communication between technical terrorist teams dispersed around the globe.
Also, free satellite images along with a host of additional information on locations and organizations have resulted in the creation of «Mini-intelligence services» organized by extremist groups, across the globe.
It should be noted that the sharp increase in the capacity of computer hard disks, the simplification of transport and the possibility of sending video and film through websites, produces potential technical capabilities of state mechanisms as far as potential terrorists are concerned, a subject that would have been considered as a science fiction, just a few years ago.
Essentially a group of people today are able in just a few hours and through the convenience of their home, to accumulate information about the delicate infrastructure of a state, as well as, apply psychological warfare techniques and business espionage of a considerable scale.
Another very important point is that at least 90% of intelligence needed to conduct an operation against a target, may be collected through the mass media and surely over the Internet. So police measures designed to restrict the flow of information-Apart from the technical difficulties- are in essence impossible to be implemented.
In the U.S. since the late 1990s, the first measures were taken to address the above developments. The authorities there, use sophisticated software, and analyze a broad range of enterprises to find terrorists in chat rooms, internet forums, public sharing files, etc. The CIA has since 2005 has a Center that monitors blogs around the world to identify extreme rhetoric from groups of people. The FBI maintains the Carnivore system designed to monitor the flow of information through e-mails within the U.S. Further, there have been many cyberspace exercises by security authorities across the world that deal with a whole range of issues, starting from mass attacks through servers to monitoring the allocation of extremist websites that muster support for violent actions.
The internet era, despite its technocratic substance, calls for the investment in human capital in order to effectively resolve the issues concerning terrorism. The training of people associated with the internet in security authorities should always take into account that the internet is no more that a gigantic electronic platform for human communication, therefore the ones in charge should treat any results under the eye of human experience and logic and not rely solemnly on technological terms.
Careful consideration needs to be particularly applied regarding the development of the so-called social networks. They are increasing rapidly among youth and are a serious weakness for the protection of personal data which can easily used by terrorists, if it has not been already done.
It is understood of course that the terrorist groups themselves do not transmit their own information online, but follow the traces of others who are viewing as targets or as potential informants. It is crucial to inform the public on the risks that exist and it must be vital to comprehend that officials involved in security, military and intelligence, should have their personal social profile offline.
In general, the nexus between the internet and terrorism is a great multidimensional issue that will continue to grasp the attention of the analysts and will not be resolved without examining thoroughly the numerous aspects that are associated with it. In a sense the internet brought the world closer but also increased the chances for terrorist action for a countless array of groups across the planet.
Ioannis Michaletos is WSN Editor South East Europe.