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What is Cyber Terrorism? - Definition, Cases & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:58 Examples
  • 2:10 Consequences
  • 3:05 2014 Cases
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Krcatovich

Erin teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration and has a PhD in Political Science.

In this lesson, we'll learn about cyber terrorism, or terrorism occurring over electronic media and the Internet. We'll provide a few examples to help situate this topic within the larger concept of terrorism.

Definition of Cyber Terrorism

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) enforces federal laws, those created by Congress which apply to everyone nationwide. One area of law which they enforce is cyber terrorism, which involves crimes of terrorism that occur electronically. These crimes occur against individuals, businesses, organizations, and against the government itself.

So much of our lives are accessible electronically now - from your social security number on a job application, to your bank account, to medical records and more. With the greater convenience of using technology, we trade off some degree of security since it's very difficult to stop every instance of cyber terrorism. Consider for a moment, how much of your own private information could a hacker potentially find online about your life? Who or what protects you against theft or other crimes related to your personal data?

Examples of Cyber Terrorism

Terrorism can occur over the public internet, over private computer servers, or even through secured government networks. There are many ways in which a criminal could use electronic means to incite fear and violence. It's far less expensive to purchase a computer than to access guns or bombs, making this approach appealing for many potential criminals worldwide. It can be anonymous and conducted at a great distance away from the target. For just a few examples, consider these situations:

  • Foreign governments may use hackers to spy on U.S. intelligence communications in order to learn about where our troops are located or otherwise gain a tactical advantage at war.
  • Domestic terrorists may break into the private servers of a corporation in order to learn trade secrets, steal banking information, or perhaps the private data of their employees.
  • Global terror networks may disrupt a major website in order to create a public nuisance or inconvenience, or even more seriously, try to stop traffic to a website publishing content with which they disagree.
  • International terrorists could try to access and disable the signal which flies drones or otherwise controls military technology.

Consequences of Cyber Terrorism

Experts in cyber terrorism have pointed out that the potential harm posed by these threats may be exaggerated, but there is some disagreement. If it was to succeed, our outdated computer networks owned by the national government could be comprised. Bombs could be detonated or dismantled, private data could be leaked, and secret communications could be given to our enemies. The United States Institute for Peace argues that there is significant public fear of these crimes, brought about by increased media and governmental attention.

This may not be an accurate assessment of the danger, however, because as Aljazeera America points out, there have not been any large scale attacks on U.S. infrastructure. The Obama administration, however, argued that the U.S. is seriously threatened by cyber terrorism. Let's consider a few examples identified by the FBI to learn more about the threat posed by these recent attacks.

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