Terrorist Capabilities for Cyberattack: Overview and Policy Issues
Terrorist Capabilities for Cyberattack:
Overview and Policy Issues
Updated January 22, 2007
Specialist in Terrorism and International Crime
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Specialist in Technology and National Security
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Terrorist Capabilities for Cyberattack:
Overview and Policy Issues
Terrorist’s use of the internet and other telecommunications devices is growing
both in terms of reliance for supporting organizational activities and for gaining
expertise to achieve operational goals. Tighter physical and border security may also
encourage terrorists and extremists to try to use other types of weapons to attack the
United States. Persistent Internet and computer security vulnerabilities, which have
been widely publicized, may gradually encourage terrorists to continue to enhance
their computer skills, or develop alliances with criminal organizations and consider
attempting a cyberattack against the U.S. critical infrastructure.
Cybercrime has increased dramatically in past years, and several recent terrorist
events appear to have been funded partially through online credit card fraud. Reports
indicate that terrorists and extremists in the Middle East and South Asia may be
increasingly collaborating with cybercriminals for the international movement of
money, and for the smuggling of arms and illegal drugs. These links with hackers
and cybercriminals may be examples of the terrorists’ desire to continue to refine
their computer skills, and the relationships forged through collaborative drug
trafficking efforts may also provide terrorists with access to highly skilled computer
programmers. The July 2005 subway and bus bombings in England also indicate that
extremists and their sympathizers may already be embedded in societies with a large
information technology workforce.
The United States and international community have taken steps to coordinate
laws to prevent cybercrime, but if trends continue computer attacks will become
more numerous, faster, and more sophisticated. In addition, a recent report by the
Government Accountability Office states that, in the future, U.S. government
agencies may not be able to respond effectively to such attacks.
This report examines possible terrorists’ objectives and computer vulnerabilities
that might lead to an attempted cyberattack against the critical infrastructure of the
U.S. homeland, and also discusses the emerging computer and other technical skills
of terrorists and extremists. Policy issues include exploring ways to improve
technology for cybersecurity, or whether U.S. counterterrorism efforts should be
linked more closely to international efforts to prevent cybercrime.
This report will be updated as events warrant.
In troduction ......................................................1
When is Cyberattack Considered Cyberterrorism?....................3
Objectives for a Cyberattack.....................................3
Persistent Computer Security Vulnerabilities........................5
U.S. Government Cybersecurity Efforts............................7
Department of Homeland Security (DHS).......................7
Department of Defense.....................................7
Changing Concerns about Cyberattack, 2001-2006....................9
Inconsistent Reporting of Terrorists’ Cyber Activities................11
Technical Skills of Terrorists....................................12
Cyberterrorism Capability of State Sponsors of Terrorism.............15
Trends in Cyberterrorism and Cybercrime..........................16
The Insider Threat............................................19
Links Between Terrorism and Cybercrime.........................19
International Efforts to Prevent Cybercrime........................21
Analysis and Policy Issues..........................................22
Terrorist Capabilities for Cyberattack:
Overview and Policy Issues
Often it is very difficult to determine if a cyber attack or intrusion is the work
of a terrorist organization with the objective of doing harm, or a cyber criminal who
wishes to steal information for purposes of monetary gain. Just as terrorists and
violent extremists often rely on exploiting vulnerabilities of targets seen as soft and
easy to access to support possible future cyber attacks, cyber criminals exploit these
same vulnerabilities to gain access to information that may lead to monetary gain.
Implementation of a stronger policy for domestic physical security has reduced the
risk to some targets that may have previously been vulnerable to physical attacks.
Also, it is suggested by numerous experts that terrorists may be enhancing their
computer skills or forming alliances with cybercriminals that possess a high-level of
telecommunications expertise. In addition, continuing publicity about Internet
computer security vulnerabilities may encourage terrorists’ interest in attempting a
possible computer network attack, or cyberattack, against U.S. critical infrastructure.
To date, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports that cyberattacks
attributed to terrorists have largely been limited to unsophisticated efforts such as
email bombing of ideological foes, or defacing of websites. However, it says their
increasing technical competency is resulting in an emerging capability for network-
based attacks. The FBI has predicted that terrorists will either develop or hire
hackers for the purpose of complimenting large conventional attacks with
cyberattacks.1 Recently, during the Annual Threat Assessment, FBI Director Mueller
observed that “terrorists increasingly use the internet to communicate, conduct
operational planning, proselytize, recruit, train and to obtain logistical and financial2
support. That is a growing and increasing concern for us.”
IBM has reported that, during the first half of 2005, criminal-driven computer
security attacks increased by 50 percent, with government agencies and industries in3
the United States targeted most frequently. Cybercrime is now a major criminal
1 Keith Lourdeau, FBI Deputy Assistant Director, testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security, February 24, 2004.
2 Robert Mueller, FBI Director, testimony before the Senate Select Committee on
Intelligence, January 11, 2007.
3 IBM Press Release, Government, financial services and manufacturing sectors top targets
of security attacks in first half of 2005, August 2, 2005,
activity, and it may become increasingly difficult to separate some forms of
cybercrime from suspected terrorist activities. For example, in a recent report from
the House Homeland Security Committee, FBI officials indicated that extremists
have used identity theft and credit card fraud to support recent terrorist activities by
Al Qaeda cells.4 Also, according to press reports Indonesian police officials believe
the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali were partially financed through online credit card
This report reviews publications and government reports to explore the
following: (1) examples of vulnerabilities that may raise the level of interest that
terrorists might have in attempting a coordinated cyberattack; (2) effects of the War
on Terror that are driving terrorists to use the Internet more; (3) inconsistent reporting
about terrorists’ cyber activities; and (4) ways that terrorists may be improving their
Distinctions between crime, terrorism, and war tend to blur when attempting to
describe a computer network attack (CNA) in ways that parallel the physical world.
For example, if a nation state were to secretly sponsor non-state actors who initiate
a CNA to support terrorist activities or to create economic disruption, the distinction
between cybercrime and cyberwar becomes less clear. Because it is difficult to tell
from where a cyberattack originates, an attacker may direct suspicion toward an
innocent third party. Likewise, the interactions between terrorists and criminals who
use computer technology may sometimes blur the distinction between cybercrime and
cyberterrorism. It also may be the case that individuals providing computer expertise
to a criminal or terrorist may not be aware of the intentions of the individual that
requested the support. So far, it remains difficult to determine the sources responsible
for most of the annoying, yet increasingly sophisticated attacks that plague the
Internet. Given the difficulty in determining the originator of the cyber intrusions or
attacks, some argue that unlike responding to traditional criminal acts, the focus
should be on the act rather than the perpetrator and the threshold for launching
defensive and offensive actions should be lowered.
[ h t t p : / / www.i b m. com/ news/ i e / e n/ 2005/ 08/ i e _en_news_20050804.ht ml ] .
4 According to FBI officials, Al Qaeda terrorist cells in Spain used stolen credit card
information to make numerous purchases. Also, the FBI has recorded more than 9.3 million
Americans as victims of identity theft in a 12-month period; June, 2005. Report by the
Democratic Staff of the House Homeland Security Committee, Identity Theft and Terrorism,
July 1, 2005, p. 10.
5 Alan Sipress, “An Indonesian’s Prison Memoir Takes Holy War Into Cyberspace,”
Washington Post, December 14, 2004, p. A19.
The Internet is now used as a prime recruiting tool for insurgents in Iraq.6
Insurgents have created many Arabic-language websites that are said to contain
coded plans for new attacks. Some reportedly give advice on how to build and
operate weapons, and how to pass through border checkpoints.7 Other news articles
report that a younger generation of terrorists and extremists, such as those behind the
July 2005 bombings in London, are learning new technical skills to help them avoid
detection by law enforcement computer technology.8
When is Cyberattack Considered Cyberterrorism?
Some observers feel that the term “Cyberterrorism” is inappropriate, because a
widespread cyberattack may simply produce annoyances, not terror, as would a
bomb, or other chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear explosive (CBRN)
weapon. However, others believe that the effects of a widespread computer network
attack would be unpredictable and might cause enough economic disruption, fear,
and civilian deaths, to qualify as terrorism. At least two views exist for defining the
!Effects-based: Cyberterrorism exists when computer attacks result
in effects that are disruptive enough to generate fear comparable to
a traditional act of terrorism, even if done by criminals.
!Intent-based: Cyberterrorism exists when unlawful or politically
motivated computer attacks are done to intimidate or coerce a
government or people to further a political objective, or to cause
grave harm or severe economic damage.9
Objectives for a Cyberattack
The Internet, whether accessed by a desktop computer or the many available
handheld devices, is the medium through which a cyberattack would be delivered.10
However, for a targeted attack to be successful, the attackers usually require that the
network itself remain more or less intact, unless the attackers assess that the
perceived gains from shutting down the network would offset the accompanying loss
of communication. A targeted cyberattack could be effective if directed against a
6 Jonathan Curiel, “TERROR.COM: Iraq’s tech-savvy insurgents are finding supporters and
luring suicide-bomber recruits over the Internet,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 2005,
[ h t t p : / / www.sf ga t e .com/ c gi -b i n / a r t i c l e .cgi ?f =/ c/ a/ 2005/ 07/ 10/ CURIEL.T M P] .
7 Jonathan Curiel, “Iraq’s tech-savvy insurgents are finding supporters and luring suicide-
bomber recruits over the Internet,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 2005, p. A.01.
8 Michael Evans and Daniel McGrory, “Terrorists Trained in Western Methods Will Leave
Few Clues,” London Times, July 12, 2005.
9 For a more in-depth discussion of the definition of cyberterrorism, see CRS Report
RL32114, Computer Attack and Cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and Policy Issues for
Congress, by Clay Wilson.
10 A targeted attack is one where the attacker is intentionally attempting to gain access to or
disrupt a specific target. This is in contrast to a random attack where the attacker seeks
access to or disrupt any target that appears vulnerable.
portion of the U.S. critical infrastructure, and if timed to amplify the effects of a
simultaneous conventional physical or chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological
(CBRN) terrorist attack. The objectives of a cyberattack include the following four
2.Loss of availability, where mission critical information systems are
rendered unavailable to authorized users;
3.Loss of confidentiality, where critical information is disclosed to
unauthorized users; and,
4.Physical destruction, where information systems create actual physical
harm through commands that cause deliberate malfunctions.
According to Richard Clarke, former Administration Counter Terrorism Advisor
and National Security Advisor, if terrorists were to launch a widespread cyberattack
against the United States, the economy would be the intended target for disruption,
while death and destruction might be considered collateral damage.12 Many security
experts also agree that a cyberattack would be most effective if it were used to
amplify a conventional bombing or CBRN attack. Such a scenario might include
attempting to disrupt 911 call centers simultaneous with the detonating of an
explosives devices. This type of example is usually contrasted to a widespread,
coordinated cyberattack, unaccompanied by a physical attack, that would technically
be very difficult to orchestrate and unlikely be effective in furthering terrorists’ goals.
Because such an attack cannot directly cause death and destruction, this may explain
why there is no evidence that terrorist groups have undertaken a significant cyber
attack.13 However, other observers say that, because of interdependencies among
infrastructure sectors, a large-scale cyberattack that affected one sector could also
have disruptive, unpredictable, and perhaps devastating effects on other sectors, and
possibly long-lasting effects to the economy. These observers assert Al Qaeda and
associated terrorist groups are becoming more technically sophisticated, and years of
11 U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Cyber Operations and Cyber Terrorism,
Handbook No. 1.02, August 15, 2005, p.II-1 and II-3
12 Kevin Rademacher reporting remarks of Richard Clarke at CardTech/SecurTech security
conference April 2005, “Clarke: ID Theft Prevention Tied to Anti-terrorism Efforts,” Las
Vegas Sun, April 13, 2005, at [http://www.lasvegassun.com/sumbin/stories/text/2005/
13 Joris Evers, “Does Cyberterrorism Pose a True Threat?,” PCWorld, March 14, 2003, at
[http://www.peworld.com/news/article/0,aid,109819,00.asp]. Joris Evers, reporting remarks
by Bruce Schneier at CeBIT technology trade show in March 2003, “Cyberterror Threat
Overblown,” Computerworld, March 14, 2003, at [http://www.computeworld,com/
printthis/2003/0,4814,79368,00.html]. Gabriel Weimann, Special Report - Cyberterrorism:
How Real is the Threat?, United States Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C., May 2004.
Dan Ilett reporting remarks of Richard Clarke at the Oxford University Internet Institute in
February 2005, Clarke joins latest cyberterror debate, ZDNet UK, February 11, 2005, at
[ ht t p: / / www.zdnet .co.uk/ pr i nt / ? T YPE=st or y&AT = 39187582-39020375t -10000025c] .
publicity about computer security weaknesses has made them aware that the U.S.
economy could be vulnerable to a coordinated cyberattack.14
Publicity would be also one of the primary objectives for a terrorist attack.
Extensive coverage has been given to the vulnerability of the U.S. information
infrastructure and to the potential harm that could be caused by a cyberattack. This
might lead terrorists to feel that even a marginally successful cyberattack directed at
the United States may garner considerable publicity.15 Some suggest that were such
a cyber attack by a terrorist organization to occur and become known to the general
public, regardless of the level of success of the attack, concern by many citizens may
lead to widespread withdrawal of funds and selling of equities.
Persistent Computer Security Vulnerabilities
At the July 2005 Black Hat computer security conference (a private sector
sponsored annual meeting of organizations focused on cyber-security technology and
related issues) Las Vegas, a security expert demonstrated an exploit of what many
consider to be a significant Internet security flaw, by showing how the most
commonly used Internet routers; the computer’s device that forwards data to a
desired destination, could quickly be hacked.16 This router vulnerability could allow
an attacker to disrupt selected portions of the Internet, or even target specific groups
of banks or power stations.17 Security expert Bruce Schneier, a recent critic of the
idea of cyberterrorism, reportedly agreed that the router flaw was a “major” Internet
security vulnerability, and could allow criminals to steal identity information, or
otherwise attack networks. The company released in April 2005 a software patch to
fix the problem, but over the following four months, had apparently not notified its
customers and government agencies, including DHS, about the seriousness of the
14 Dan Verton, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism, McGraw-Hill, 2003,
p. 110. Keith Lourdeau, Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI Cyber Division, testimony
before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland
Security, February 24, 2004. Ryan Naraine reporting remarks of Roger Cressey at Infosec
World 2005, Cyber-Terrorism Analyst Warns Against Complacency, eWEEK.com, April
15 The Electronic Intrusion Threat to National Security and Emergency Preparedness
(NS/EP) Internet Communications, Office of the Manager, National Communications
System, December 2000, p.31, at [http://www.ncs.gov/library/reports/electron
16 Amy Storer, Update: IPv6 risks may outweigh benefits, SearchSecurity.com, July 29,
gc i1112459,00.html ?track=NL-358&ad=525032USCA].
17 Victor Garza, Security researcher cause furor by releasing flaw in Cisco Systems IOS,
SearchSecurity.com, July 28, 2005, at [http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/ori
gi nalContent/0,289142,sid14_gci1111389,00.html ].
18 Justin Rood, Cisco Failed to Alert DHS, Other Agencies About Software Security Flaw,
CQ Homeland Security, August 2, 2005, at [http://homeland.cq.com/hs/display.d
The United States may provide ample economic targets vulnerable to
cyberattack, thus tempting terrorist groups to increase their cyber skills.19 A February
2005 report by the President’s Information Technology Committee (PITAC) stated
that the information technology infrastructure of the United States, which is vital for
communication, commerce, and control of the physical infrastructure, is highly
vulnerable to terrorist and criminal attacks. The report also found that the private
sector has an important role in protecting national security by deploying sound
security products, and by adopting good security practices.20 However, a recent
survey of 136,000 PCs used in 251 commercial businesses in North America found
that a major security software patch, known as SP2, was installed on only nine
percent of the systems, despite the fact that Microsoft advertized the importance of
installing the security patch one year ago. The remaining 91 percent of commercial
businesses surveyed will continue to be exposed to major security threats until they
deploy the software patch throughout their organizations.21 This may bring into
question the extent to which the private sector will self-protect without greater
Several recent studies by global computer security firms found that the highest
rates for computer attack activity were directed against critical infrastructures, such
as government, financial services, manufacturing, and power. These reports also
show that the United States is the most highly targeted nation for computer attacks;
during the first half of 2005, United States computer systems were attacked at a rate
10 times higher than the next most highly targeted nation, China (see section titled
“Trends in Cybercrime,” below).22 U.S. federal agencies have come under criticism
in past years for the effectiveness of their computer security programs.23 Further, a
May 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that
19 Dan Verton, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism, McGraw-Hill, 2003,
p. 110. (Hereafter cited as Verton, Black Ice.)
20 The President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, Cyber Security: A Crisis
of Prioritization, Report to the President, February 2005, p. 25,
21 John Foley, “Businesses Slow to Deploy Windows XP SP2,” Information Week, April 26,
22 IBM News, Report Finds Online Attacks Shift Toward Profit, August 2, 2005, at
[http://www.ibm.com/news/us/en/2005/08/2005_08_02.html]. Symantec Press Release,
Symantec Internet Security Threat Report Highlights Rise In Threats To Confidential
Information, March 21, 2005, at [http://www.symantec.com/press/2005/n050321.html].
23 Based on 2002 data submitted by federal agencies to the White House Office of
Management and Budget, GAO noted, in testimony before the House Committee on
Government Reform (GAO-03-564T, April 8, 2003), that all 24 agencies continue to have
“significant information security weaknesses that place a broad array of federal operations
and assets at risk of fraud, misuse, and disruption.” Christopher Lee, November 20, 2002,
Agencies Fail Cyber Test: Report Notes ‘Significant Weaknesses’ in Computer Security, at
[ h t t p : / / www.washi n gt onpost . com/ ac2/ wp-dyn/ A12321-2002Nov19?l a nguage =pr i nt er .]
because of the growing sophistication of malicious code on the Internet, the federal
government may increasingly be limited in its ability to respond to cyber threats.24
U.S. Government Cybersecurity Efforts
Many U.S. federal government departments and agencies have responsibilities
and have established programs to address various aspects of cyber-security. Some
would argue that this level of federal effort demonstrates the government’s view as
recognizing cyber-security as a national priority. Others see the many organizations
and programs as unnecessarily duplicative with the Nation lacking a coherent strategy
for understanding the true cyber security threat or the roles and responsibilities of
each federal government organization.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Some homeland security
experts are concerned that the establishment of DHS has delayed federal government
cyber security efforts significantly. It is suggested that during a time when the
terrorists appear to be growing more reliant on the internet and gaining valuable
expertise and experience, DHS, the lead federal agency responsible for cyber-
security, has not progressed to meet the challenges that might lie ahead. Others cite
the difficulty of ascertaining the intentions, origination, and groups behind cyber-
intrusions and attacks as a reason for DHS and the federal government’s lack of
progress. In February, 2006, DHS participated in and sponsored exercise Cyber
Storm which tested the ability of the U.S. government, international partners, and the
private sector to recognize, disrupt, and respond to a large-scale cyber attack.
Analysis of the exercise produced eight major findings to better position the United25
States to “enhance the nation’s cyber preparedness and response capabilities.”
While many were pleased that DHS conducted this exercise and recognized areas for
improvement, other homeland security observers found the findings to be an
acknowledgment of the work that has not been accomplished since the establishment
of the Department.
Department of Defense. In August 2005, DOD Directive 3020.40, the
“Defense Critical Infrastructure Program,” assigned functional responsibility within
DOD for coordinating with public and private sector services for protection of
defense critical infrastructures from terrorist attacks, including cyberattack.26 DOD
also announced the formation of the Joint Functional Component Command for
Network Warfare (JFCCNW) which has responsibility for defending all DOD
24 GAO, Information Security; Emerging Cybersecurity Issues Threaten Federal
Information Systems, report 05-231, May 2005.
25 DHS, DHS Releases Cyber Storm Public Exercise Report, September 13, 2006
[http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1158341221370.shtm]. The eight cyber-security
enhancement findings addressed: Interagency Coordination, Contingency Planning, Risk
Assessment and Roles and Responsibilities, Correlation of Multiple Incidents between
Public and Private Sectors, Exercise Program, Coordination between Entities of Cyber
Incidents, Common Framework for Response to Information Access, Strategic
Communications and Public Relations, and Improvement of Process, Tools and Technology.
26 The Defense Critical Infrastructure is defined as those DOD and non-DOD networked
assets essential to project, support, and sustain military forces and operations worldwide.
computer systems. The expertise and tools used in this mission are for both offensive
and defensive operations.27
FBI. The FBI Computer Intrusion program provides administrative and
operational support and guidance to field offices investigating computer intrusions.
A Special Technologies and Applications program supports FBI counterterrorism
computer intrusion investigations, and the FBI Cyber International Investigative
program conducts international investigations through coordination with FBI
Headquarters Office of International Operations and foreign law enforcement
agenci es. 28
NSA. The National Security Agency (NSA) has created the National Centers
of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education (CAEIAE) Program,
which is intended to reduce vulnerability of national information infrastructure by
promoting higher education in information assurance (IA), and by producing more
professionals with IA expertise. The NSA and the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) in support of the President’s National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace,
established in February 2003, now jointly sponsor the program. Under this program,
four-year colleges and graduate-level universities are eligible to apply to be
designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance
Education (CAEIAE). Students attending CAEIAE schools are eligible to apply for
scholarships and grants through the Department of Defense Information Assurance
Scholarship Program and the Federal Cyber Service Scholarship for Service Program
(S FS ). 29
CIA. The CIA Information Operations Center, which evaluates threats to U.S.
computer systems from foreign governments, criminal organizations and hackers,
conducted a cybersecurity exercise in 2005 called “Silent Horizon” to see how
government and industry could react to Internet based attacks. One problem the CIA
wanted to examine was who would actually deal with a major cyberwar attack. In
theory, the government is in charge, but in practice, the defenses are controlled by a
number of civilian telecommunications firms. The simulated cyber attacks were set
five years into the future. The stated premise of the exercise was that cyberspace30
would see the same level of devastation as the 9/11 hijackings.
An earlier cyberterrorism exercise called “Livewire” concluded there were
serious questions over government’s role during a cyberattack depending on who was
identified as the culprit — terrorists, a foreign government, or bored teenagers. It
27 John Lasker, “U.S. Military’s Elite Hacker Crew,” Wired News, April 18, 2005,
[ h t t p : / / www.wi r e d.com/ n ews/ pr i n t / 0,1294,67223,00.ht ml ] .
28 Keith Lourdeau, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism,
Technology, and Homeland Security, February 24, 2004, [http://www.fbi.gov/congress/
29 National Security Agency, [http://www.nsa.gov/ia/academia/caeiae.cfm].
30 Ted Bridis, "‘Silent Horizon’ war games wrap up for the CIA," USA Today, May 26,
also questioned whether the U.S. government would be able to detect the early stages
of such an attack without significant help from private technology companies.
Inter-Agency Forums. To improve cybersecurity for federal agencies and
the critical infrastructure, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has created
a task force to investigate how agencies can better coordinate cybersecurity functions
such as training, incident response, disaster recovery, and contingency planning. The
U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also created a new National Cyber
Security Division that will focus on reducing vulnerabilities in the government’s
computing networks, and in the private sector to help protect the critical31
Many security vendors agree that to combat cybercrime more effectively, it must
be treated as a global problem. Some of these security vendors have created their
own independent advance-warning systems for their customers through linking
proprietary security equipment into global networks that share information collected
by their distributed customer base. One example is an early-warning cyber-security
intrusion program that’s composed of a global network of 19,000 firewall and
intrusion-detection devices maintained by thousands of volunteer data partners. This
early intrusion system correlates global data to detect the start of a possible swarming
Internet attack originating simultaneously in different parts of the world, and notifies
administrators to help them defend their systems when targeted.32 A similar
public/private partnership security warning program was created through the Cyber
Incident Detection Data Analysis Center (CIDDAC).33 In 2005, CIDDAC will install
special sensors on the networks of participating partner companies to automatically
detect cyberattacks and notify administrators and law enforcement.
Changing Concerns about Cyberattack, 2001-2006
Following the September 11 attacks, public concerns were high about the threat
of a possible follow-on cyberattack from terrorist groups.34 Subsequently, there has
been disagreement among security experts about (1) whether such an attack could
31 Jason Miller, “New Cybersecurity Team Meets this Week,” Government Computer News,
March 21, 2005. Grant Gross, “Homeland Security to Oversee Cybersecurity,” PC World,
June 9, 2003, at [http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,111066,00.asp].
32 Paul Roberts, “Symantec Offers Early Warning of Net Threats,” PC World, February 12,
33 CIDDAC is a not-for-profit organization that combines private and government
perspectives to facilitate automated real-time sharing of cyberattack data. CIDDAC is
specifically designed to protect privacy rights while collecting cyber threat information from
sensors attached to corporate computer networks.
34 In July 2002, Gartner Research and the U.S. Naval War College hosted a three-day,
seminar-style war game called “Digital Pearl Harbor” (DPH), with the result that 79% of the
gamers said that a strategic cyberattack against the United States was likely within the next
two years. Gartner Research, ‘Digital Pearl Harbor’: Defending Your Critical Infrastructure,
October 4, 2002, at [http://www.gartner.com/pages/story.php.id.2727.s.8.jsp].
possibly be launched by terrorists against U.S. civilian critical infrastructure, or (2)
whether such an attack could seriously disrupt the U.S. economy.35
Simulated cyberattacks, conducted by the U.S. Naval War College in 2002,
indicated that attempts to cripple the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure would
be unsuccessful because system redundancy would prevent damage from becoming
too widespread. Many observers suggest that evidence from natural disasters shows
that many the critical infrastructure systems, including banking, power, water, and
air traffic control, would likely recover rapidly from a possible cyberattack.36
To date, there has been no published report of a coordinated cyberattack
launched against the critical infrastructure by a terrorist or terrorist group. Dennis
McGrath of the Institute of Security Technology Studies at Dartmouth College
reportedly observed that, “We hear less and less about a digital Pearl Harbor.
Cyberterrorism is not at the top of the list of discussions.”37
In May 2005, the CIA reportedly conducted a classified war game, dubbed
“Silent Horizon,” to practice defending against a simulated widespread cyberattack
directed against the United States. The national security simulation was considered
significant because many U.S. counterterrorism experts feel that far-reaching effects
from a cyberattack are highly unlikely.38 However, other observers believe that tests
of countermeasures, even for unlikely events, may sometimes be prudent.
Many cyber security observers are concerned that U.S. government efforts to
date have not effectively prepared the nation for a catastrophic cyberattack. A
Business Roundtable report issued in June 2006 found three “cyber-gaps” that are
keeping the United States from being prepared to recognize and respond to a
cyberattack: (1) the lack of established indicators that would indicate an attack is
underway; (2) a failure to identify who is responsible for restoring affected
infrastructure; and (3) a lack of dedicated resources to assist in returning cyber
35 Robert Gates, former CIA director, warned that the threat of cyberterrorism should be
taken particularly seriously. Keith Lourdeu, deputy assistant director of the FBI Cyber
Division, stated that “our networked systems make inviting targets for terrorists due to the
potential for large-scale impact on the nation.” Douglas Schweitzer, “Be Prepared for
Cyberterrorism,” Computerworld, April 6, 2005. However, others believe that infrastructure
systems are robust and could recover quickly. Richard Forno, “Shredding the Paper Tiger
of Cyberterrorism,” Security Focus, September 25, 2002, at [http://www.securityfocus.com/
printable/columnists/111]. See also, CRS Report RL32114, Computer Attack and
Cyberterrorism: Vulnerabilities and Policy Issues for Congress, by Clay Wilson.
36 Scott Nance, “Debunking Fears: Exercise Finds ‘Digital Pearl Harbour’ Risk Small,”
Defense Week, April 7, 2003, at [http://www.kingpublishing.com/publications/dw/].
William Jackson, “War College Calls Digital Pearl Harbor Doable,” Government Computer
News, August 23, 2002, at [http://www.gcn.com/vol1_no1/daily-updates/19792-1.html].
37 “CIA Overseeing 3-Day Wargame on Internet,” Associated Press, May 25, 2005.
38 Ted Bridis, “‘Silent Horizon’ War Games Wrap up for the CIA,” USA Today, May 26,
operations to a pre-attack condition.39 Due to increased security measures applied to
physical facilities and U.S. government efforts to track and engage groups in their
home countries, many believe the internet will increasingly play a bigger role in
terrorist support and operational efforts. Many observers that monitor the Internet
suggest that due to the effects of intensified counterterrorism efforts worldwide,
Islamic extremists are gravitating toward the Internet, and are succeeding in
organizing online where they have been failing in the physical world. Terrorist
groups increasingly use online services for covert messaging, through steganography,
anonymous e-mail accounts, and encryption.40
Inconsistent Reporting of Terrorists’ Cyber Activities
Some security observers argue that a lack of consistent reporting on the true
nature of the cyber-security threat is a direct by-product of the federal government’s
lack of strategy and inability to clarify assignments for the numerous departments and
agencies that have some responsibility for the issue. Others note that the numerous
recent governmental organizations are the reason for the delay in progress, and also
predict that as DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence mature,
the issue of cyber-security assessments and reporting may receive a higher priority.
A review of two annual U.S. government reports on terrorism activity shows
inconsistent attention to the issue of possible cyberterrorism.41 Two federal agencies
report on terrorism activity annually: (1) the Department of State’s (DOS) Patterns
of Global Terrorism42 and, (2) the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Annual
Terrorism in the United States.43
In the DOS reports for the years 1996 to 1999, brief mention is made of
cyberterrorism issues. In the year 2000, the report acknowledges that “widespread
availability of hacking software and its anonymity and increasingly automated design
make it likely that terrorists will more frequently incorporate these tools into their
online activity.” In 2001, however, no mention of cyberterrorism issues appeared in
39 Business Roundtable, Essential Steps to Strengthen America’s Cyber Terrorism
Preparedness, June 2006, at [http://www.businessroundtable.org/pdf/
40 Terrorist suspects are reportedly using encryption techniques to prevent police from
accessing vital intelligence on seized computers, according to U.K. police. Stewart Tendler,
“Encrypted Files Frustrate Police,” Times Online, July 20, 2005, at
[http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,20409-1701405,00.html]. See CryptoHaven,
at [http://www.cryptoheaven.com/], and SecretMaker, at [http://www.secretmaker.com/
41 John Rollins, Specialist in Terrorism and International Crime, Congressional Research
Service, August 2005.
42 “Country Reports on Terrorism” is submitted in compliance with Title 22 of the United
States Code, Section 2656(f) which requires the Department of State to provide Congress
with a full and complete annual report on terrorism for those countries and groups meeting
the criteria of Section (a)(1) and (2) of the act, at [http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/c14812.htm].
the DOS report, and for the years 2002 to 2004, only mentions of various security
forums and international cybersecurity working groups were noted.
The FBI’s Annual Terrorism Report similarly was inconsistent in mentioning
cyberterrorism issues. In the 1996 and 1997 reports, there was no mention of
cyberterrorism or related activity. In 1998 the report acknowledged that “cyber tools
may find their way in the hands of terrorist” and speculated that “the spread of
cyberattack tools, like the proliferation of conventional weapon technology may
eventually wind up in the hands of terrorists.” The following year, 1999, the Report
stated that “the threat of cyberterrorism will grow in the new Millennium, as the
leadership positions in extremist organizations are increasingly filled with younger,
Internet-savvy individuals.” These two reports arguably suggested that the issue of
cyberterrorism was being followed closely. The Reports from 2000 to 2003
mentioned cyberterrorism, but only in the programmatic aspect regarding
organizational changes the FBI was putting in place to address cybersecurity, with
no mention of past or projected cyberterrorism incidents or issues. The FBI did not
produce a report in 2004, and one is not yet due for 2005.
Since the attacks of 9/11, many observers are concerned that increased efforts
to safeguard facilities, infrastructure, personnel safety, and the decrease in the DOS’s
and FBI’s discussion of cybersecurity issues, together may indicate a lack of
appreciation for the threat that may be facing the United States from possible
cyberterrorism. Others suggest that although the frequency and severity of
cyberattacks are on the rise, the federal government may not be sufficiently
increasing its efforts to improve cybersecurity.44
Technical Skills of Terrorists
Through captured literature, it is known that many Al Qaeda members are well
educated, and have familiarity with engineering and other technical areas.45 During
a November 2001 attack by U.S. forces, Al Qaeda fighters fled from Kabul,
Afghanistan leaving behind many documents and sensitive information that yielded
a profile of some Al Qaeda operatives as well-educated and trained in the use of
computer systems. “Technical treatises in Arabic, English, German as well a
students’ notebooks in Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and Russian reflected a consistent
interest in and widespread familiarity with electrical and chemical engineering,
atomic physics, ballistics, computers, and radios,” according to researchers and
journalists who reportedly examined the documents.46
Just as people all over the world now use the Internet, terrorists also use it as a
modern tool for communication. Terrorists and extremist groups have reportedly
44 GAO, Information Security; Emerging Cybersecurity Issues Threaten Federal
Information Systems, report 05-231, May 2005.
45 Tom Spring, “Al Qaeda’s Tech Traps,” PC World, September 1, 2004,
46 Anthony Davis, “The Afghan files: Al-Qaeda Documents from Kabul,” Jane’s
Intelligence Review, February 1, 2002.
generated thousands of Internet web sites to support psychological operations, fund
raising, recruitment, and coordination of activities. Recently, the Department of
State’s Counterterrorism Director noted “the most worrisome scenario of another
attack in the homeland is lone operatives who slip into the country and take
directions through cyberspace.”47 A significant concern is that some of these web
sites used for the suspected terrorist activity are hosted on Internet Service Providers
inside the United States.48 The level of technical sophistication of the extremist
groups that use and operate these web sites has also increased. In 2006 it was
reported that an organization linked to al-Qaeda produced a 26-page manual
providing instructions on the use of the Google search engine to further the goals of
global jihad.49 Recently British forces in Iraq have found print-outs of Google-Earth
pictures that reportedly were to be used for targeting of coalition forces.50
A recent study of more than 200,000 multimedia documents on 86 sample
websites concluded that extremists exhibited similar levels of web knowledge as U.S.
government agencies, and that the terrorist websites employed significantly more
sophisticated multimedia technologies than U.S. government websites. The study
concluded that these extremist websites support advanced Internet-based
communication tools such as online forums and chat rooms more frequently than
U.S. government web sites.51 Because of perceived anonymity, terrorist likely feel
safer when working together on the Internet.
In April 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stated in a letter to the
U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that cyberwarfare attacks against the
U.S. critical infrastructure will become a viable option for terrorists as they become
more familiar with the technology required for the attacks. Also according to the
CIA, various groups, including Al Qaeda and Hizballah, are becoming more adept
at using the Internet and computer technologies, and these groups could possibly
develop the skills necessary for a cyberattack.52 In February 2005, FBI director
Robert Mueller, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that
terrorists show a growing understanding of the critical role of information technology
47 Michael Isikoff, Terror: We’re Going to Get Hit, Newsweek, January 22, 2007.
48 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not liable for terrorist propaganda posted on their
systems unless they have actual knowledge of it. Once discovered, terrorist web sites can
quickly jump to another ISP faster than system administrators, or law enforcement, can track
them. Evan Kohlman, Al Qaeda on the Internet, Washington Post online interview, August
49 “Terrorists Launch Google Guide,” The Jawa Report, November 29, 2006,
50 Thomas Harding, “Terrorists use Google Maps to hit UK Troops,” Telegraph, January 13,
51 Jialun Qin et al., Analyzing terror campaigns on the internet: Technical sophistication,
content richness, and Web interactivity, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies,
November 1, 2006, vol. 65, p.71-84.
52 Verton, Black Ice, p. 87.
in the U.S. economy and have expanded their recruitment to include people studying
math, computer science, and engineering.53
Senior leadership of al-Qaeda, who reportedly have access to the most modern
technology equipment,54 and other terrorist groups are reportedly building a massive
and dynamic online library of training materials, many of which are supported by
subject matter experts who answer questions on message boards or in chat rooms.
This online library covers such areas as how to mix poisons for chemical attacks,
how to ambush U.S. soldiers, how to coordinate a suicide bomb attack, and how to
hack computers.55 One discussion forum popular with supporters of terrorism is
called Qalah, or Fortress, where potential al Qaeda recruits can find links to the latest
in computer hacking techniques in a discussion area called “electronic jihad.”56
Some security experts do not think it is worthwhile to hijack or disrupt the web
sites created by terrorists. This is because terrorists will usually find a way to quickly
put their sites back up under different, multiple names, which may be even more
difficult to monitor. Instead, U.S. intelligence sources can gain valuable information
by simply monitoring the web sites they already know about. This may also include
monitoring the Internet addresses of those who frequent these web sites. However,
more skilled analysts are needed to help translate the communications and
information that is posted on the many different terrorist web sites.57
The Washington Times has reported that Islamic extremists are calling for
creation of an Islamist hackers’ army to plan cyberattacks against the U.S.
government and that postings on the extremist bulletin board, al-Farooq, carry
detailed cyberattack instructions, and include spyware programs for download that
can be used to learn the passwords of targeted users.58 Other extremist websites
reportedly resemble online training camps that may offer instructions for how to
create a safe-house, how to clean a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or what to do
53 Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 16, 2005.
54 “Al-Qaida leaders have the best computer technology that money can buy.” Evan
Kohlmann, terrorism consultant, Newsday, Tunnel Plot Talk in Web Chat rooms can net
cyber terrorists, July 8, 2006.
55 Some have described these web training sites as an open university for jihad. Steve Coll
and Susan Glasser, “Terrorists Turn to the Web as Base of Operations,” Washington Post,
Aug 7, 2005, A1.
56 Steve Coll and Susan Glasser, “Terrorists Turn to the Web as Base of Operations,”
Washington Post, Aug 7, 2005, A1.
57 Susan Glassar, “The Iraq Insurgency’s Online Strategy,” Washington Post online
interview, August 9, 2005, 11 A.M. E.T.
58 Shaun Waterman, “Islamists Seek To Organize Hackers’ Jihad in Cyberspace,”
Washington Times, August 26, 2005, p. 9.
59 Tom Spring, “Al Qaeda’s Tech Traps,” PCWorld, September 1, 2004, at
Iman Samudra, convicted and now awaiting execution for taking part in the
2002 bombings of two Bali nightclubs, has written a book titled “Aku Mekawan
Terroris!”, which reportedly translates to “Me Against the Terrorist”. Samudra
advocates that Muslim youth actively develop hacking skills “to attack U.S. computer
networks.” Samudra names several websites and chat rooms as sources for
increasing hacking skills. He urges Muslim youth to obtain credit card numbers and
use them to fund the struggle against the United States and its allies.60 The terrorist
attacks in Bali, and recent attacks in several other countries, may have been funded
through stolen credit cards.61
Cyberterrorism Capability of State Sponsors of Terrorism
Methods for conducting information warfare to advance the goals of a nation
state might also involve secretly sponsoring terrorists. In March 2005, a Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) report indicated that, of the six nations currently listed
by the State Department as terrorist sponsors, five of them — North Korea, Sudan,
Syria, Libya, and Cuba — are described as a diminishing concern for terrorism. Only
Iran remains listed as a nation-state possibly having a future motivation to assist
terrorist groups in attacking the United States homeland. However, some experts
believe that a decline in state-sponsorship of terrorism may push terrorist
organizations to increasingly embrace the drug trade or other forms of cybercrime.62
China is often cited as providing government support to computer-hackers. A
paper published in 1999 authored by two senior colonels in the Chinese military
specifically discusses the need for China to place new emphasis on information
warfare methods to attack enemy financial markets, civilian electricity networks, and
telecommunications networks by burying “... a computer virus and hacker
detachment in the opponent’s computer systems in advance...” of launching the
information warfare network attacks.63
DOD officials have acknowledged that hackers, apparently based in China, have
been successfully penetrating U.S. military networks since 2001, and perhaps earlier.
Although some of these successful cyberattacks were directed against unclassified
networks, one intrusion reportedly did obtain data about a future Army command and
60 FBI Report FEA20041222000744, version 17, Convicted Indonesian Terrorist Calls for
Computer Hacking, Jihad Against US, December 4, 2004,
[htt ps: / / www.f b i s .gov/ por t a l / s er ve r .pt / gat eway/ PT ARGS_0_22439_246_203_0_43/http
61 Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism advisor for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill
Clinton, stated that we are vulnerable to people who would use our identities against us.
Kevin Rademacher, “Clarke: ID Theft Prevention Tied to Anti-Terrorism Efforts, Las
Vegas Sun, April 13, 2005, at [http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/text/20
62 Jennifer Hesterman, Transnational Crime and the Criminal-Terrorist Nexus, Walker
Paper No.1, Air University, Air University Press, May, 2005, p.32.
63 Qioa Lang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare, Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts
Publishing House, February 1999.
control system.64 Although the hackers are suspected to be based in China, DOD and
security officials remain divided over (1) whether the ongoing cyberattacks are
coordinated or sponsored by the Chinese government, (2) whether they are the work
of individual and independent hackers, or (3) whether the cyberattacks are being
initiated by some third-party organization that is using network servers in China to
disguise the true origins of the attacks. It remains very difficult to determine the true
identity, purpose, or sponsor (if any) of a cyber attacker.
Trends in Cyberterrorism and Cybercrime
Today, cyberattacks are increasingly designed to silently steal information
without leaving behind any damage that would be noticeable to a user. These types
of attacks attempt to escape detection in order to remain on host systems for longer
periods of time. Research has shown that attackers are now focusing their efforts on
infecting home user desktops or taking control of web applications, allowing the
attacker to steal confidential information such as passwords or account codes. The
attackers are also using new malicious code tools called “bot networks” that attempt
to deny Internet service to targeted victims. According to recent studies by the
security organization Symantec and the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, in the first
six months of 2006 the home user sector accounted for a large percentage of all
targeted attacks, and many home users now believe their financial and personal
information may be at risk due to cybercrime.65
Identity theft involving thousands of victims is enabled by advances in computer
technology, and by poor computer security practices.66 In June 2006, officials from
the U.S. Department of Energy acknowledged that names and personal information
belonging to more than 1,500 employees of the National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) had been stolen in a network intrusion that apparently took
place starting in 2004. The NNSA did not discover the security breach until one year
after it had occurred.67
64 Frank Tiboni, “The New Trojan War,” Federal Computer Week, August 22, 2005, p. 60.
Nathan Thornburgh, Inside the Chinese Hack Attack, August 25, 2005, at
65 Vincent Weafer, Statement before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and
the Internet, Committee on Energy and Commerce, September 13, 2006.
66 On April 12, 2005, personal information, such as Social Security Numbers for 310,000
U.S. citizens, may have been stolen in a data security breach that involved 59 instances of
unauthorized access into its corporate databases using stolen passwords. Boston College
reported in March 2005 that a hacker had gained unauthorized access to computer database
records with personal information for up to 106,000 alumni, and in the same month, Chico
State University of California, reported that its databases had been breached containing the
names and Social Security numbers for as many as 59,000 current and former students.
David Bank and Christopher Conkey, “New Safeguards for Your Privacy,” The Wall Street
Journal, March 24, 2005, p. D1.
67 Dawn Onley and Patience Wait, DOD’s efforts to stave off nation-state cyberattacks begin
with China, Government Computer News, August 21, 2006.
A series of computer attacks launched in 2003 against DOD systems and
computer systems belonging to DOD contractors apparently went undetected for
many months. This series of cyberattacks was labeled “Titan Rain,” and was
suspected by DOD investigators to originate in China. The attacks were directed
against the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the U.S. Redstone
Arsenal, the Army Space and Strategic Defense Installation, and several computer
systems critical to military logistics. Although no classified systems were breached,
many files were copied containing information that is sensitive and subject to export-
In November 2006, an extended computer attack against the U.S. Naval War
College in Newport, Rhode Island, prompted officials to disconnect the entire
campus from the Internet.68 DOD officials acknowledge that the Global Information
Grid, which is the main network for the U.S. military, experiences more than three
million daily scans by unknown potential intruders. DOD officials also suspect that
most of these scans originated in the United States and in China (although some of
the attacks apparently only traversed through networks in China, casting some doubt
on the true origin).69
Security experts warn that all U.S. federal agencies should now be aware that
in cyberspace some countries consider that no boundaries exist between military and
civilian targets. According to an August 2005 computer security report by IBM,
more than 237 million overall security attacks were reported globally during the first
half of the year.70 Government agencies were targeted the most, reporting more than
financial services ranked third with approximately 34 million, and healthcare
received more than 17 million attacks. The most frequent targets for these attacks,
all occurring in the first half of 2005, were government agencies and industries in the
United States (12 million), followed by New Zealand (1.2 million), and China (1
million). These statistics may represent an underestimation, given that most security
analysts agree that the number of incidents reported are only a small fraction of the
total number of attacks that actually occur.
Usually, a cyberattack is difficult to detect until after it is well underway, and
may involve hundreds or thousands of compromised computers from all parts the
globe that are directed by a cybercriminal to attack as a swarm. If the attack is
directed against a yet-undisclosed, or newly-discovered security vulnerability, the
targeted computer systems may be at a significant disadvantage. Most commercial
computer security safeguards operate mainly to prevent the types of attacks that are
68 Chris Johnson, Naval War College Network, Web Site Back Up Following Intrusion,
Inside the Navy, December 18, 2006.
69 Some estimates say that up to 90% of computer software used in China is pirated, and thus
open to hijack through computer viruses. James Lewis, Computer Espionage, Titan Rain
and China, Center for Strategic and International Studies, December 14, 2005.
70 The Global Business Security Index reports worldwide trends in computer security from
incidents that are collected and analyzed by IBM and other security organizations. IBM
press release, IBM Report: Government, Financial Services and Manufacturing Sectors Top
Targets of Security Attacks in First Half of 2005, IBM, August 2, 2005.
already known to administrators. A new, unique type of attack against computers
may encounter inadequate, untested, or non-existent defenses.
A 2004 survey by an internet security company, covering 450 networks in 35
countries, found that hacking had become a profitable criminal pursuit.71 Hackers
sell unknown computer vulnerabilities (commonly called “zero-day exploits”) on the
black market to criminals who use them for fraud. Hackers with networks of
compromised computers (also known as “bot nets”) rent them to other criminals who
use them to launch coordinated attacks against targeted individuals or businesses,
including banks or other institutions that manage financial information.72
It has been reported that stolen credit card numbers and bank account
information are now traded online in a highly structured arrangement, involving
buyers, seller, intermediaries, and service industries. These services include offering
to conveniently change the billing address of a theft victim, through manipulation of
stolen PINs or passwords. Estimates by some observers are that, in a highly
profitable black market, each stolen MasterCard number can be sold for between $42
MasterCard International reported that in 2005 more than 40 million credit card
numbers belonging to U.S. consumers were accessed by computer hackers and were
at risk of being used for fraud.74 Some of these account numbers were reportedly
being sold on a Russian website, and some consumers have reported fraudulent
charges on their statements. Officials at the UFJ bank in Japan reportedly stated that
some of that bank’s customers may also have become victims of fraud related to theft
of MasterCard information.75
In Autumn 2004, organized cybercriminals appear to have infiltrated the
computer systems of the London offices of Sumitomo, the Japanese bank, in an
attempt to steal £220 million. The cybercriminals reportedly planned to transfer the
money to other bank accounts around the world. Officials at the London police fraud
squad reportedly stated that Sumitomo is the only incident so far in which an attack
71 Counterpane Internet Security, Attack Trends 2005, June 2005, at
[ ht t p: / / www.schnei e r .com/ essay-085.pdf ] .
72 Bruce Schneier, Attack Trends: 2004 and 2005, June 6, 2005, at
[ ht t p: / / www.schnei e r .com/ bl og/ a r c hi ve s/ 2005/ 06/ at t a ck_t r e nds_2.ht ml ] .
73 CCRC staff, Russia, Biggest Ever Credit Card Scam, Computer Crime Research Center,
July 8, 2005, at [http://www.crime-research.org/news/08.07.2005/1349/].
74 Jonathan Krim and Michael Barbaro, “40 Million Credit Card Numbers Hacked,”
Washington Post, June 18, 2005, p. A01. See also the report by the U.S. House of
Representative Homeland Security Committee, July 1, 2005, raising concerns about
potential ties between identity theft victims and terrorism. Caitlin Harrington, “Terrorists
Can Exploit Identity Theft, Report From House Democrats Says,” CQ Homeland Security,
July 1, 2005.
75 BBC News, "Japan Cardholders ‘Hit’ by Theft," June 21, 2005, at
by external cybercriminals has nearly succeeded against a major bank.76 Figures from
the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit in England show that, in 2003, at least 83% of U.K.
companies were targeted by hackers in attempts to seize control of their systems.77
The Insider Threat
A 2003 study of security incidents, conducted by the U.S. Secret Service and
the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute, found that attacks on computer
systems committed by insiders with authorized access, have reportedly cost industry
millions of dollars in fraud and lost data.78 Insider employees with access to sensitive
information systems can initiate threats in the form of malicious code inserted into
software that is being developed either locally, or under offshore contracting
arrangements. For example, in January 2003, 20 employees of subcontractors
working in the United States at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation were arrested for
possession of false identification used to obtain security access to facilities containing
restricted and sensitive military technology. All of the defendants pleaded guilty and
have been sentenced, except for one individual who was convicted at trial on April
Links Between Terrorism and Cybercrime
The proportion of cybercrime that can be directly or indirectly attributed to
terrorists is difficult to determine. Linkages between criminal and terror groups may
allow terror networks to expand and undertake large attacks internationally by
leveraging criminal sources, money, and transit routes. For example, observers
speculate that Aftab Ansari, a criminal suspect located in Dubai, used ransom money
earned from prior kidnappings to assist with funding for the September 11, 2001
terrorist attacks. Also, London police officials believe that terrorists obtained the
high-quality explosives used for the 2005 bombings through involvement with an80
Eastern European black market. The recent subway and bus bombings in the U.K.
also indicate that groups of terrorists may be active within other countries that have
large computerized infrastructures, along with a large, highly skilled information
technology workforce. A report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
predicts that other possible sponsors of terrorist attacks against the United States
homeland may include groups such as Jamaat ul-Fuqura, a Pakistani-based
76 Conal Walsh, “Terrorism on the Cheap — and with No Paper Trail,” The Guardian
Observer (London), July 17, 2005. (Hereafter cited as Walsh, Terrorism on the Cheap.)
77 Hi-Tech Crime: The Impact on U.K. Business 2005, 2004 Survey, at
[http://www.nhtcu.org/ me dia/documents/publications/8817_Survey.pdf].
78 Marisa Randazzo et al., Insider Threat Study: Illicit Cyber Activity in the Banking and
Finance Sector, Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute, August 2004.
79 U.S. Attorneys Office District of Connecticut, at [http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/ct/attf.html].
80 Walsh, Terrorism on the Cheap. Rollie Lal, “Terrorists and Organized Crime Join
Forces,” International Herald Tribune, May 25, 2005, at [http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/
By George!, summer 2004 [http://www2.gwu.edu/~bygeorge/060804/crimeterrorism.html].
organization allegedly linked to Muslims of America; Jamaat al Tabligh, an Islamic
missionary organization; and, the American Dar Al Islam Movement.81
Officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), reported in 2003 that
14 of the 36 groups found on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist
organizations were involved in drug trafficking. Consequently, DEA officials
reportedly argued that the war on drugs and the war on terrorism are and should be
linked.82 A 2002 report by the Library of Congress Federal Research Division,
revealed a “growing involvement of Islamic terrorist and extremists groups in drug
trafficking”, and limited evidence of cooperation between different terrorist groups
involving both drug trafficking and trafficking in arms.83 State Department officials,
at a Senate hearing in March 2002, also indicated that some terrorist groups may be
using drug trafficking as a way to gain financing while simultaneously weakening
their enemies in the West through exploiting their desire for addictive drugs.84
Western Europe and North America continue to be regions that have major narcotics
markets, optimal infrastructure, and open commercial nodes that increasingly serve
the transnational trafficking needs of both criminal and terrorist groups.85
Drug traffickers are reportedly among the most widespread users of computer
messaging and encryption, and often have the financial clout to hire high level
computer specialists capable of using steganography (writing hidden messages
contained in digital photographs) and other means to make Internet messages hard
or impossible to decipher. Access to such high level specialists can allow terrorist
organizations to transcend borders and operate internationally without detection.
81 The DHS report, dated January 2005, is entitled “Integrated Planning Guidance, Fiscal
Years 2005-2011.” Justin Rood, “Animal Rights Groups and Ecology Militants Make DHS
Terror List, Right-Wing Vigilantes Omitted,” CQ Homeland Security, March 25, 2005. Eric
Lipton, “Homeland Report Says that Threat From Terror-List Nations Is Declining,” The
New York Times, March 31, 2005, p. A9.
82 Authorization for coordinating the federal war on drugs expired on September 30, 2003.
For more information, see CRS Report RL32352, War on Drugs: Reauthorization of the
Office of National Drug Control Policy, by Mark Eddy. Also, see D.C. Préfontaine, QC and
Yvon Dandurand, Terrorism and Organized Crime Reflections on an Illusive Link and its
Implication for Criminal Law Reform, International Society for Criminal Law Reform
Annual Meeting — Montreal, August 8 — 12, Workshop D-3 Security Measures and Links
to Organized Crime, August 11, 2004, at [http://www.icclr.law.ubc.ca/Pu
83 L. Berry, G.E. Curtis, R.A. Hudson, and N. A. Kollars, A Global Overview of
Narcotics-Funded Terrorist and Other Extremist Groups, Federal Research Division,
Library of Congress, Washington, DC, May 2002.
84 Rand Beers and Francis X. Taylor, U.S. State Department, Narco-Terror: The Worldwide
Connection Between Drugs and Terror, testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary
Committee, Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information, March
85 Glenn Curtis and Tara Karacan, The Nexus Among Terrorists, Narcotics Traffickers,
Weapons Proliferators, and Organized Crime Networks in Western Europe, A study
prepared by the Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, December 2002, p. 22, at
[ h t t p : / / www.l o c.go v/ r r / f r d / pdf -f i l e s/ West Eur ope_NEX US.pdf ] .
Many highly trained technical specialists available for hire are located in the
countries of the former Soviet Union and in the Indian subcontinent. Some
specialists will not work for criminal or terrorist organizations willingly, but may be
misled or unaware of their employers political objectives. Still, others will agree to
provide assistance because well-paid legitimate employment is scarce in their
An emerging area of concern is the involvement of terrorist groups in
counterfeiting of intellectual property, which can be even more lucrative than drug
trafficking. In other areas, where criminals and terrorists work together to move
money internationally, members of terrorist groups may be given special training in
computer software, or in engineering, to facilitate communications through the
Internet. In-house financial specialists and experienced advisors may also knowingly,
or sometimes unknowingly, help cybercriminals evade the scrutiny of bank regulators
and international investigators. These reportedly may include, accountants, bank
employees in offshore zones and in major financial centers who may or may not also
be terrorists or supportive of the political motives of their clients.87
International Efforts to Prevent Cybercrime
Cybercrime is a major international challenge, however attitudes about what
composes a criminal act of computer wrongdoing may still vary from country to
country. The European Union has set up the Critical Information Infrastructure
Research Coordination Office (CI2RCO), which is tasked to examine how its
member states are protecting their critical infrastructures from possible cyberattack.
The project will identify research groups and programs focused on IT security in
The Convention on Cybercrime was adopted in 2001 by the Council of Europe,
a consultative assembly of 43 countries, based in Strasbourg. The Convention,
effective July 2004, is the first and only international treaty to deal with breaches of
law “over the internet or other information networks.” The Convention requires
participating countries to update and harmonize their criminal laws against hacking,
infringements on copyrights, computer facilitated fraud, child pornography, and other
illicit cyber activities.88 To date, eight of the 42 countries that signed the Convention
have completed the ratification process.
86 Louise Shelly, Organized Crime, Cybercrime and Terrorism, Computer Crime Research
Center, September 27, 2004, [http://www.crime-research.org/articles/Terro
87 Louise I. Shelley and John T. Picarelli, “Methods Not Motives: Implications of the
Convergence of International Organized Crime and Terrorism,” Police Practice and
Research, vol. 3, no. 4, 2002 p. 311, at [http://www.american.edu/traccc/Publications/
Shelley% 20Pubs/T o%20Add/MethodsnotMotives.pdf].
88 Full text for the Convention on Cyber Crime may be found at
[http://conventions.coe.int/T reaty/ Commun/QueVoulezVous. a s p ? N T =185&CM =8&DF=
Although the United States has signed the Convention, it did not sign a
complementary protocol that contained provisions to criminalize xenophobia and
racism on the Internet, which would likely not be supported by the U.S.
Constitution.89 The complementary protocol could be interpreted as requiring nations
to imprison anyone guilty of “insulting publicly, through a computer system” certain
groups of people based on characteristics such as race or ethnic origin, a requirement
that could make it a crime to e-mail jokes about ethnic groups or question whether
the Holocaust occurred. The Department of Justice has said that it would be
unconstitutional for the United States to sign that additional protocol because of the
First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression. The Electronic Privacy
Information Center, in a June 2004 letter to the Foreign Relations Committee,
objected to U.S. ratification of the Convention, because it would “would create
invasive investigative techniques while failing to provide meaningful privacy and
civil liberties safeguards.”90 However, a coalition of U.S. industry associations,
including the Business Software Alliance, the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, the
American Bankers Association, the Information Technology Association of America,
InfraGard, Verisign, and several others, have urged the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations
Committee to recommend ratification of the Convention.91
The Bush Administration submitted the Convention on Cybercrime (Treaty Doc.
The United States will comply with the Convention based on existing U.S. federal
law; and no new implementing legislation will be required. Legal analysts say that
U.S. negotiators succeeded in scrapping most objectionable provisions, thereby
ensuring that the Convention tracks closely with existing U.S. laws.92
Analysis and Policy Issues
Computer security experts disagree about whether a widespread coordinated
cyberattack by terrorists is a near-term or long-term possibility. However, terrorists
have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to plan and launch conventional attacks
against targets that have easy accessibility and numerous vulnerabilities. Internet and
89 The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on the Convention on
June 17, 2004. CRS Report RS21208, Cybercrime: The Council of Europe Convention, by
Kristin Archick. Estelle Durnout, Council of Europe Ratifies Cybercrime Treaty, ZDNet,
March 22, 2004, at [http://news.zdnet.co.uk/business/legal/0,39020651,39149470,00.htm].
91 Patience Wait, “Industry Groups Urge Senate Ratification of Cybercrime Treaty,”
Government Computer News, June 6, 2005, at [http://appserv.gcn.com/vol1_no1/web/362
57-1.html]. Declan McCullagh, Tech Firms call for approval of cybercrime treaty, Cnet
News.com, June 29, 2005, at [http://news.com.com/2102-7348_3-576
92 For more information about the Convention on Cybercrime, see CRS Report RS21208,
Cybercrime: The Council of Europe Convention, by Kristin Archick.
computer system vulnerabilities are persistent and widely publicized. As technology
continues to advance, the capability, reliance, and interdependent nature of computer
systems likely will be more vulnerable to cyberattack tools that are becoming faster
and more sophisticated. Terrorists may also be developing links with cybercriminals
that will give them access to high-level computer skills. The time may be
approaching when a cyberattack may offer advantages that cause terrorists to act,
even if the probability of success, or level of effectiveness, is unknown. Similar to
terrorists reconnaissance of physical targets to assess the level of security prior to an
attack, it is suggested that the U.S. may experience a number of small cyber intrusion
events prior to an attempt at a larger more devastating attack.
Given the ability of a catastrophic cyber-attack to disrupt a significant portion
of the nation’s infrastructure, some national security observers suggest that the
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) should have the responsibility for monitoring
the capabilities and identities of the countries and groups that may wish to cause the
Nation harm through cyberattack. The DNI, as the Nation’s Chief Intelligence
Officer, has the ability to coordinate all known cyber-threat related information and
then task the intelligence community to collect information to better understand the
groups that may wish to cause the U.S. harm, and to forecast their intentions and
One issue is whether DHS has done enough to strengthen computer security for
civilian federal agencies and for the private sector. In July 2005, DHS Secretary
Michael Chertoff announced creation of the new position of Assistant Secretary for
Cyber and Telecommunications Security. In doing so he acknowledged both the
efficiencies and vulnerabilities of modern technology upon which so much of society
now depends.93 Many cybersecurity observers hope that by elevating the DHS Cyber
Security Officer from a Division Director to an Assistant Secretary level position, the
new senior official will become a more effective proponent of federal government
efforts to address and manage information technology vulnerabilities, incident
response programs, and remediation efforts.
DHS is also supporting efforts to encourage U.S. computer systems to change
to the new, reportedly more secure, IPV6 Internet Protocol.94 Despite these efforts,
according to GAO officials, DHS does not have an Internet recovery plan, or a
national cybersecurity threat assessment. DHS officials have stated that a draft
cybersecurity threat evaluation plan will be available in late 2005, but a finalized
cybersecurity plan that pinpoints the nations’s weakest security links will likely not
be available until 2006.95 Leaders of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security
and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Financial Management, Government
93 Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Second Security
Stage Review Remarks, July 13, 2005, at [http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic
94 IPV6 is the designation for a newer, more secure communications protocol for the
Internet. For more information, see CRS Report RL32411, Network Centric Warfare:
Background and Oversight Issues for Congress, by Clay Wilson.
95 Wilson Dizard, “Cybersecurity Plans Wait for Dhs to Complete its Evaluation of Threats,”
Government Computer News, July 25, 2005, vol. 24, no. 20.
Information and International Security, reportedly have stated that DHS does not
have a robust way to detect a coordinated attack against the critical infrastructure.96
Security vulnerabilities found in the Internet and in critical infrastructure
computer systems are widely publicized. Many experts are concerned that private
sector cyber security firms do not notify DHS or their customers immediately upon
recognition of a potentially serious Internet security vulnerability. If hackers become
aware of this vulnerability, observers speculate that these individuals could disable
portions of the Internet, or successfully disrupt selected portions of the United States
or international critical infrastructure. This raises the following questions:
!Should vendors of computer products be required to quickly report
all serious, newly discovered product vulnerabilities to DHS?
!Should computer service providers or businesses be required to
report to DHS any major security vulnerabilities that have been
newly exploited by cybercriminals?
!Should there be penalties if an organization has a poor security
policy that contributes to a major loss of sensitive information?
Some actions are underway that Congress may consider.97 For example, on
September 30, 2005, an interim rule was issued by the Federal Acquisition
Regulations Council, outlining several new steps acquisition workers must take to
ensure IT security is incorporated into all federal purchases. Under this interim rule,
government contracting officers must include additional cybersecurity rules in their
acquisition planning, which will require vendors to improve computer security for
the IT products and services they supply to the federal government.98
Experts now believe that terrorist collaborate with organized crime networks in
the Middle East for international smuggling of arms and illegal drugs. Criminal drug
traffickers can provide terrorists with access to computer specialists with high-level
technical skills. What are the pro’s and con’s of linking counterterrorism efforts
more closely to the efforts of agencies that counter drug trafficking?
Should the counterterrorism efforts be linked more closely with international
efforts to prevent cybercrime? What are effective ways to encourage more
international cooperation for identifying which activities should be labeled as
cybercrime, and for punishing those who operate as cybercriminals?
96 Grant Gross, Senators Call on DHS to Improve Cybersecurity Efforts, Symantec, at
[http://enterpri s es ecur i t y.s ymant ec.com/ publ i c s e ct or / a r t i c l e .cf m?ar t i c l e i d =5862&EID=0] .
97 See National Institute of Standards and Technology website for Federal Agency Security
Practices, at [http://csrc.nist.gov/fasp/].
98 Jason Miller, “IT Security Requirements Now Part of the FAR,” Government Computer
News, September 30, 2005, at [http://www.gcn.com/vol1_no1/daily-updates/37162-1.html].
Federal Register, September 30, 2005, vol. 70, no. 189, pp. 57449-57452.
Security experts have reportedly stated that, although U.S. military networks are
relatively secure, many of those networks remain highly dependent on the civilian
communications infrastructure.99 Should DOD collaborate more closely with DHS
for new technologies to strengthen the computer security of civilian agencies and
Trends for cybercrime indicate that computer attacks could increase in number,
speed, and sophistication. Will future unknown computer vulnerabilities and
sophisticated attacks allow terrorist to launch an effective cyberattack that might
overwhelm the ability of civilian agencies to respond effectively? Could a new
approach to computer security reduce vulnerabilities? An example of a new
approach to improve computer security for computer systems and the Internet might
include development and refinement of quantum methods for unbreakable
cryptography.100 However, new approaches to computer security could also lead to
the emergence of new threats directed against new vulnerabilities. For example, the
proliferation and use of commercial products with unbreakable cryptography could
seriously undermine the ability of law enforcement to perform critical missions such
as protecting against threats posed by terrorists, organized crime, and foreign
The following bills are related to improving national computer security, or the
prevention of cybercrime:
H.R. 1. H.R. 1, “Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act
of 2007,” was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs on January 9, 2007. The DHS Secretary shall evaluate and
annually prioritize all pending applications for covered grants based upon the degree
to which they would lessen the threat to the critical infrastructure, including, but not
limited to, cyber threats. Evaluation and prioritization shall be based upon the risk
assessment by the Office of Intelligence Analysis and the Office of Infrastructure
Protection of the threats of terrorism against the United States.
99 Barton Reppert, remarks made by Clifford Lau, July 26, 2005, at the Rayburn House
Office Building, subsequent to a hearing by the House Science Committee.
100 Quantum cryptography: In the microscopic world, once a system is observed, it is
inevitably affected and changes into another state (Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle). By
incorporating the fact that weak light behaves as “photons” subject to this law, quantum
cryptography is an unbreakable cryptography with the photons becoming the information
carriers, or information cameras. Press Release, Mitsubishi Electric, 2002,
[http://global.mitsubishielectric.com/ news /news_releases/2002/mel0560_b.html ].