Cyber terrorism, cyber attacks against al Qaeda 2.0

Pierluigi Paganini April 06, 2012

The encounter with terrorism technology, widely defined cyber terrorism, is one of the main threats for each country. Wrongly, we tend to associate a terrorist act to a physical event as an explosion, a conflict, a tragedy, but the common people totally ignore the potential threat of a cyber offensive.

We learned about the devastating effects of a cyberweapon, ie tools capable of attacking critical infrastructures with devastating consequences. Think of a virus as Stuxnet that may affect the proper functioning of control systems of a nuclear power plant, could be a catastrophic accident. Not least would be a incident to a control systems of a dam and we can find hundreds of similar analogies.
A terrorist could have clear advantages in conducting such an operation, primarily the ability to remain anonymous and silent in time.

Second error made when one thinks of a terrorist attack is thought the attack in to consider it in the final phase, one linked to the damage, striking and destructive event. A cyber attack requires meticulous preparation, the step of gathering information on the target is crucial and cyber tools and malware are excellent for conducting this phase. Today there are countless exploits to help gain control of remote PCs, these options would certainly facilitate the preparation of a terrorist act. Through emails and documents of a pc it’s possible to trace a profile of an objective, reconstruct its history, deepening vulnerabilities, clear that we are faced with a threat as dangerous as the event itself because the same information could be used for subsequent attacks.

A a secret report issued December 21 by the Canadian Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Services raises the specter of a possible future cyber attack by agents or sympathizers of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist organization. Although to date there is no proof of the al Qaeda’s interest in a cyber offensive the possibility of conducting a cyber attack is high considering the huge financial resources of the group to purchase the equipment required and to acquire the needed expertise.

“Bin Laden’s vast financial resources, however, would enable him or his organization to purchase the equipment and expertise required for a cyber attack and mount such an attack in very short order.”

In one of its interviews bin Laden has spoken regarding the possible constitution of a cyber army.

“hundreds of Muslim scientists were with him who would use their knowledge … ranging from computers to electronics against the infidels,”

according to the Canadian report bin Laden may have planned a cyber attacks against the West.

Of course we have to aspect similar attacks coming from all over the world organized by sympathizers in other countries having as possible targets such as telecommunications grid, electric power facilities and oil and natural gas pipelines.

Yesterday Al-Qaeda’s main internet forums have been attacked, they were offline for during the entire day, several others sites were downed during last weeks including two of the terrorist organization’s top sites, al-Fida and Shamukh al-Islam.  At the moment there are no claims but the nature of the attacks suggests the intervention of groups of hackers hired by governments committed to the fight against terrorism.

Some rumors cite that the managers of the web sites intentionally stopped their services because they noticed the infiltration of foreign spies, this occurrence in my opinion is absurd.

Personally I think such attacks aren’t very useful, even counterproductive, for several reasons, first of all events like these will induce the activists of Al-Qaeda to increase security measures to protect their computer resources making it difficult cyber espionage operations and infiltration.

Another negative aspect related to the attacks is that they could call for similar reactions bringing the level of attention of the group on cyber weapons to worrying levels.

As stated by these terrorists have substantial financial resources and industry of cybercrime would be happy to forge new alliances in the name of the business. In this way we can induce the genesis of a new and unpredictable cyber threats from which defend themselves would be complicated.

Pierluigi Paganini

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