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Cyber-Terrorism: Propaganda or Probability?
 Related Resources
• Page 1: The Debate
• Page 2: Weighing In
• Page 3: The Risks
• Securing the Home PC
• Securing the Enterprise
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• The Cyberwar Debate

Citing dire statistics and Governmental warnings, the media has become increasingly vocal in expressing concern over the potential for an all-out Cyberwar. In his recent NewsFactor article, "Fanatics with Laptops: The Coming Cyber War", Tim McDonald warns that a "fanatical individual (can) if we do not defend against it, use a laptop to do unimaginable damage at no personal cost whatsoever."

Such allegations may be fueled by worrisome statements from Richard Clarke, Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security within the National Security Council. In a February 2001 interview conducted by Richard Thieme for Information Security Magazine, Clarke claims he understates the potential severity of cyber-threats and that consequences can be significant: "the economy is badly damaged, the nation is unable to operate for a period of time and people die."

The reliance the so-called critical infrastructure has on the Internet is often cited as the reason such attacks could be so severe. Power, water, transporation, government, and even the US miliary maintain a certain reliance on the Internet for communications. Many warn a terrorist attack could cripple this infrastructure, disrupting, for example, flight patterns or causing a failure in emergency response due to power or communications loss. The events of September 11, 2001 have heightened these fears and have led to the creation and rearranging of mutliple government agencies devoted to cyberterrorism.

Others aren't so certain the fears are justified, and point to accidental disruptions having caused the same types of widespread outtages the government warns cyberterrorists could affect - without the catastrophic consequences predicted by cyberterrorism theorists.

Underground Focus, a magazine devoted to subsurface infrastructure protection, tracks and catalogs accidental outtages involving underground services, including gas, phone, and electric. According to their records, approximately 192 persons were fatally wounded in subsurface infrastructure accidents from 1995 to present. Rather than as a result of the damage to infrastructure, the vast majority of the fatalities have been confined to the person(s) actually involved directly in causing the accident to occur. In most cases, recovery of the infrastructure has been swift. In 1997, the Washington, DC area suffered three major cable cuts - from backhoes - in a matter of weeks, one of which blocked approximately 336,000 circuits, and yet the problem was overcome in minutes by simple re-routing. In short, despite a wide range of outtages and damage inflicted upon our critical subsurface infrastructure during the 7-year tracking period, relatively few collateral fatalities have been reported and recovery of resources (power/phone/gas) has been swift.

Can previous experience with infrastructure outtages be compared to potential damages that might result if the outtage occurred via a different vector - i.e. over the Internet rather than via a backhoe? Various security experts and vendors were asked how real they felt the threat of cyberterrorism is and, if it were to occur, what its most likely form would be.

Next page > Security experts weigh in > Page 1, 2, 3

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