Worldwide hacking attack asserts cyberterrorism threat



Wed, 17 May 2017 - 09:41 GMT


Wed, 17 May 2017 - 09:41 GMT

cyber attacks_ Creative Commons via Pixabay

cyber attacks_ Creative Commons via Pixabay

The “ransomware” hacking attacks witnessed last week in hospitals and telecommunication companies worldwide have brought attention to the growing threat of cyberterrorism, which is becoming a serious challenge to the national security and economies of countries.

The modern day electronic revolution witnessed in the field of information technology has contributed in advancing terrorists’ criminal methods, as a result of the misuse of cyberspace. Cyber-related threats are increasing in frequency, scale and expanding in their targets.

First international gathering to combat cyberterrorism
Aiming to formulate a comprehensive plan against the roots of internet crimes, a two-day international conference on the criminalization of cyber-terrorism concluded Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. It sought to analyze cyberterrorism and develop an effective legal and rights-based international framework for combating this growing threat.

The conference was organized by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Sheikh Abdullah bin-Zayed Al-Nahyan. It hosted regional and international high level decision makers, government officials, counter cyber-terrorism experts, research institutions, academia, as well as representatives from the United Nations’ Counter Terrorism Center and European Parliament.

Abu Dhabi conference’s participants discussed mechanisms to find a common ground for formulating and implementing a system of international laws that would counteract the root causes of cyber-terrorism in line with human rights.

The conference tackled topics of cyber-terrorism in the context of the conflict of legislations, cultural and social decline, and ways to ensure that all efforts to combat cyber-terrorism are in line with human rights principles.

It represented a platform to discuss innovative ideas and approaches to promote international cooperation, and develop a deeper understanding of new challenges confronting governments and international organizations facing increasing exploitation of cyberspace by terrorist groups.

The final statement of the conference presented by Dr. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Organizing Committee, confirmed the importance of shedding light on cyber-terrorism and the need to unify international efforts to criminalize it. The statement also confirmed the necessity of coordinated and rapid action by UN member states on the threats of cyber-terrorism.

How to combat cyber-terrorism?
It is important to distinguish between hacking and cyberterrorism. The later merges two spheres, terrorism and technology, with the aim to intimidate a government or its people for political or social objectives.

Cyber-terrorism by its universal nature requires an inclusive approach of the complete spectrum of society, as well as enhanced coordination and cooperation efforts on an international level in order to fill any gaps that serve the terrorist groups’ agendas.

Government officials and regional and international experts who attended Abu Dhabi conference reached a set of recommendations to combat this growing phenomenon, such as the adoption of a binding international convention to prohibit all forms of cyber-terrorism, including attempts to recruit, incite, advocate, praise and finance terrorism, as well promoting violence and hatred, racial and religious discrimination, and abuse of others.

The conference also recommended establishing national institutions of information and electronic security to develop monitoring policies and strategies on digital content involving risks of terrorism.

Deeper look into cyberterrorism
Cyberterrorisim could include disrupting air defense systems, derailing missiles, controlling air, land and sea lines, as well as paralyzing power and water supply stations. It also serves as a war weapon to violate combatant and non-combatant targets. It is used to spread rumors, fear and anxiety, and distort countries’ national security and image.

Cyberterrorism is an attractive option for modern terrorists for several reasons; it is cheaper than traditional terrorist methods, with the advantage of being easily anonymous, as well as the wider audience accessibility. Terrorists may come in various forms, such as politically motivated individuals and groups, or anti-government extremists.

The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group represents a living example of cyberterrorism, since they use cyber space to disseminate rumors and information; thus, spreading fear and anxiety among the public, as well as negatively affecting the image of the country, which impacts the economy and security.

These acts include publishing videos and statements on conducted terrorist attacks, exchanging hatred speech and recruiting terrorists. Children and youth are the most vulnerable to these threats, as they are arguably the most easily influenced and targeted by terrorist groups’ recruitment.

Cyberterrorism is influenced by social transformations, which highlights the need to include sociologists in the discussions to combat the threat. Sociologists can provide the necessary social information to develop measurable social indicators. In addition, it is important to examine other countries’ experiences in developing anti-terrorism legislations and policies to identify best practices in this field and ways to overcome challenges.

Since cyberterrorism is an international crime, local regulations alone are not enough to defend against such attacks; they require a transnational coordinated response. Ways of coordination on the international level include the exchange of information and judicial cooperation to strengthen the partnership in the fight against cyberterrorism, and drafting laws to criminalize it.

Another challenge related to cyberterrorism is that it is transboundary, and it exists in a virtual world. This fact challenges lawmakers, government actors and international organizations when dealing with the increasing exploitation of cyberspace by terrorist groups.

The world confronts cyberterrorism

The Arab countries have begun to realize the importance of encountering cyberterrorism and the challenges facing the process of combating these phenomena. Furthermore, they realized that the only effective approach to face cyberterrorism is through bringing together all the relevant factors to ensure the protection of individuals, societies and structures from cyberterrorism. The UAE’s two-day international conference is the first step in this direction.

The world is also witnessing series of moves to discuss terrorism in general and cyberterrorism in particular. On May 17, the 7th Meeting of the Arab League’s permanent group of experts on the role of the Arab Media in Countering Terrorism convened to discuss mechanisms to activate the role of the media in combating terrorism, including cyberterrorism.

Furthermore, the 19th International Conference on Human Rights and Terrorism is expected to take place in London (May 25-26, 2017). This conference will provide a premier interdisciplinary platform for researchers, practitioners and educators to present and exchange the most recent innovations, trends, and concerns, as well as the actual challenges encountered, and the solutions adopted in the fields of Human Rights and Terrorism.

Countries are coming together to develop clear guidelines and recovery action plans for cyber attacks. Regardless of whether cyberterrorism is a serious threat to life, safety, vital governmental institutions, public services and facilities, or merely an annoyance, there is an urgent need to be forward-thinkers to meet future challenges regarding cyber security.



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