Social Issue Essay Sample About the Impact of the Internet on the Nature and Structure of Terrorism Networks

1. Terrorism is “The Plague of the 21st Century”

The world community has a new number one enemy that is extremely strong and dangerous, cruel and insidious. This is international terrorism that most people call “the plague of the 21st century.” According to statistics, a terrorist attack, in which innocent people are killed, happens each two days in different countries all over the world. The number of terrorist attacks has been steadily growing with each year. We exist as a society of the information era, where computers and telecommunication systems cover all areas of human and state life. Nevertheless, humanity, putting telecommunications and global computer networks at the service of themselves, failed to foresee the threats that an abuse of these technologies pose. Today, not only certain individuals, but also the whole countries can become the victims of criminals operating in the virtual space. In this case, the safety of thousands of users can be threatened by multiple offenders. The number of crimes committed in the cyberspace grows proportionally to the number of users of the computer networks. As Interpol estimates, the growth rate of the virtual crime (over the Internet) is the fastest one on the planet. (Whittaker, DJ 2007)

terrorism essay

2. A Definition of Cyber Terrorism

The history of terrorist organizations in cyberspace has just begun. In 1998, about half of the thirty terrorist entities on the U.S. list of “foreign terrorist organizations” had web sites. By 2000, however, almost all terrorist groups have already found their existence on the Internet.

Under cyber terrorism, we understand an intentional motivated attack on information processed by a computer, computer system or network, which poses a risk to human life or health, or the onset of other serious consequences. Such acts are committed with an aim of disturbing public security, intimidating a population, or provoking a military conflict. (Resnick, D 1999)

3. Internet Advantages for Terrorist

Groups that have different political goals, but share willingness to use terrorist tactics, began to use the Internet in promoting and communicating with supporters, attracting public attention to their actions and looking for sympathizers, and even acting. By its nature, the Internet is the ideal field for terrorist organizations. This is especially true concerning the advantages provided by the World Wide Web:

  • free access;
  • little regulation, censorship, and other forms of state control (or even their complete absence);
  • a potentially huge audience in almost all countries of the world;
  • the anonymity of communication;
  • the rapid information movement;
  • low cost of website creation, and upholding of a Web company;
  • multimedia setting: the opportunity to combine text, audio and video;
  • ability to capture an audience, who are increasingly using the Internet for messaging. (Furnell and Warren 1999, p.41)

4. Four Types of Crimes Related to the Computer Use

The Convention on Cybercrime created by the Council of Europe underlines the four types of crimes related to the computer use: illegal access, illegal interception, intervention in the data, and intervention in the system. These four types of cyber crimes are “computer” ones; the rest are either connected with a computer (computer-related) or committed by a computer (computer-facilitated). (Tibbetts, PS 2002 )

Among the most striking examples of the recent legislation of this kind, the British “Terrorism Act” of 2000 has a specific place. It considers the terrorist actions as those, which “seriously affect the operation of any electronic system or seriously interfere with its work.” The new U.S. anti-terrorism law known as the “Patriotic Act 2001″ (passed by the Congress six weeks after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington) looks quite similar. (Resnick, D 1999)

With the adoption of the new law, the Congress put into common circulation the new concepts that extend the interpretation of the term “terrorism,” creating a new legal concept of “cyber-terrorism.” It includes “various forms of hacking qualified and damage to protected computer networks of citizens, legal persons and public institutions … including the damage caused by computer system used by government agencies … the organization of national defense or national security” (von Busch 2006).

essay on terrorism

5. Ways to Use Unique Advantages of Terrorist Organizations Online

There are eight dissimilar overlapping ways of using the Internet by terrorists. (Tibbetts 2002, p.221-260)

5.1. Phycological warfare

Terrorism is often referred to the use of the Internet as a form of psychological warfare; furthermore, the terrorists seek to lead such a campaign on the Internet. To do this, the terrorists have developed several ways. For example, they can use the access to the Internet to misinform, spread threats aimed at sowing fear and helplessness, disseminate horrific images of their actions (for example, the videotape of the killing of the American reporter Daniel Pearl, which was posted on several Web sites). Terrorists may also begin psychological attacks by cyber-terrorism, and more specifically, creating fears of such threats. (Hinnen, TM 2004)

5.2. Advertising and promotion

The Internet has expanded the capabilities of terrorists to publicize their activities. Before the possibility to advent the global recourse by terrorists, they hoped to promote their activities attracting the attention of various mass media. These traditional media have a multi-tiered system of editorial selection by terrorists; that is why it prevents terrorists from achieving their goal.

The fact that many terrorist organizations have a nonstop control over the subject of their messages offers opportunities for presenting information in a specially organized way that is perceived by the potential audience. Consequently, it allows manipulating the way and manner the enemy behaves.

The terrorist sites usually use three rhetorical structures necessary for justifying the use of violence. The first is a statement of fact that terrorists have no choice but to resort to violence. Violence is a necessity imposed by the weak as the only means of response to the repression enemy.

The second rhetorical construction related to the justification of violence – the demonization and delegitimization of the opponent. Such terrorist movement members are portrayed as freedom fighters, which use violence against their will, because the ruthless enemy violates the rights and dignity of people. The third rhetorical device – many statements about nonviolent action, as opposed to the existing way of terrorists. (Cohen, F 2002)

5.3. Data collection

The Internet is a huge digital database that offers lots of freely available information, which interests the terrorist organizations. From the Internet, terrorists can obtain almost any information about their victim/target- for example, city transport infrastructure, plans of nuclear power plants, civic buildings or airports, ports, and even information on counter-terrorism measures. (Cohen, F 2002)

5.4. Fundraiser

Terrorist groups use the Internet to refill their funds. Al-Qaeda, for example, is extremely dependent on donations. They use websites, chats, and various forums for collecting money and building a system of non-governmental organizations, foundations, and other economic institutions. It is a well-known fact that the Sunni extremist Hizb al-Tahrir group uses an interconnected network of sites in different countries – from European countries to Africa. It posts requests to assist the efforts of the supporters of jihad through financial donations. This way, banking information, including account numbers, through which donations can be translated, is available on the German site. (Hinnen, TM 2004)

terrorism research paper

5.5. Mobilization and recruitment

The Internet is used not only for gathering donations from supporters, but also for recruiting and mobilizing supporters, which play an active role in the terrorist activities. In addition to these search tools, terrorist organizations collect information about users looking at their accounts on social networks. Consequently, users, who seem to be most interested in the activities of the organization or well-suited for its work, are contacted immediately. Recruiters also use online technologies; they navigate through chat rooms and forums in search of the most susceptible members among the users, especially young people. Electronic conferences custom network (discussion on specific issues) may also serve as a means to address the potential newcomers. (Anderson, S & Sloan, S 2002)

5.6. The networking

Numerous terrorist organizations, for example, Hamas and Al-Qaeda, were transformed into hierarchical groups with certain leaders in the network of semi-autonomous cells that do not have a clearly defined hierarchy. With the help of this free Internet independent groups, terrorists can easily contact each other and other supplementary terrorist organizations. Modern communication technologies, especially the computer, are specific means of creating and maintaining the terrorist networks for several reasons. Firstly, the new technology greatly reduces the time of data transmission, allowing for dissipate location of actors while ensuring the possibility of rapid communication and effective coordination. Secondly, the new technology reduces the cost of communication greatly. Thirdly, combining computers with communications, the terrorists have significantly increased the multiplicity and involvedness of the information. (Cohen, F 2002)

5.7. Distribution information

The Internet is a home to many sites that contain information about production of chemical weapons and explosives. Many of these sites offer such books as Terrorist Manual and Anarchist Cookbook. These two well-known textbooks provide a detailed description of the creation of various types of explosive devices. This information is not only used by the terrorist organizations, but also disaffects individuals who decide to use terrorist tactics to express their intentions. (McClure, S, Shah, Saumil & Shah, Shreeraj 2003)

5.8. Planning with coordination

Most terrorists make use of the Internet to arrange and coordinate attacks. Al-Qaeda activists heavily used it to plan and coordinate the attacks of September 11. Thousands of encrypted messages in a password-protected section of the site were found on a computer of the al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Zabeyda, who was one of the leaders of the September 11 attacks.

Other striking examples of the recent use of the Internet as an effective tool for terrorists are considered by the British “Terrorism Act” of 2000. According to it, a terrorist action as the one that “seriously affects the operation of any electronic system or seriously interferes with its work.” (Furnell & Warren 1999, p.56-58).

6. The Most Striking Examples of the Recent Use of Internet as the Effective Tool for Terrorist

Numerous cases of different cyber terrorist actions now can be linked with such phenomenon as hackers and hacktivism. One of the major Internet suppliers of services in San Francisco, Institute for Global Communications (IGC), underwent an e-mail attack in 1997, for posting on the website of Euskal Herria Journal, a dubious edition of the New York group that supported the independence of the Basque Country in the North of Spain and South West of France. Protesting people felt that IGC supported terrorism, as site materials of the terrorist group “Homeland and Freedom”, or ETA, responsible for the murdering of more than 800 people during the Thirty Years’ War for independence of Basque, were posted on its pages. The attack against pro-IGC began after members of ETA killed a popular city councilor, in northern Spain. The aim of the protesters was censorship. They sent IGC thousands of fraudulent messages over hundreds of post services.

As a result, the work of the company was paralyzed, and mail and e-mail could not be used. Moreover, the support lines were jammed with people, who could not get to their mail. The attackers have also flooded the accounts of the staff members of IGC with useless information, scoring their pages with fake orders and credit card numbers, and threatening to use similar tactics against organizations that used the IGC service. The only way to stop the attack was to block access to all postal services. IGC closed on July 18, but before the close of this site, various mirrors were placed on several sites on the three continents (Hinnen 2004, p.88).

The case of the Euskal Herria Journal website illustrates the immense power of the Internet hacktivists. In spite of its desire, IGC could not leave the site on their hosting, because it could not withstand the attack. The case also underlines the power of the Internet as a means of freedom of speech (McClure 2003, p.134)

7. Various Legislations and Antiterrorism Laws

Recently, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced the tightening of laws aimed at fighting terrorism. Under the new legislation, stringent rules for protecting Australian citizenship will be introduced. In addition, in the nearest future, the police will have more rights in monitoring suspected of terrorist activities. Australia also supports the USA in its new anti-terrorism law the “Patriotic Act 2001″ and its new concepts that extend the interpretation of the term “terrorism”, creating a new legal concept of “cyber-terrorism.” Cyber terrorism includes acts of terrorism in cyberspace and encompasses a politically active hacker acts committed with the intent to cause serious harm to the human life or the economy of a particular business unit, a company, or a country (Australian Broadcasting Corporation n.d., n.p.)

Today, anti-terrorist units are created and developed in more than 50 countries worldwide. As a rule, legal, organizational, and technical support to counter terrorism is expressed through the establishment and continuous improvement of ways to fight against terrorism, which includes the creation of Special Forces.

research papers on terrorism

Collaboration of domestic law enforcement agencies in the fight against all forms of terrorism is more effective. Nowadays, the international community realized the need for intensifying the fight against terrorism on the international arena. In order to combat this evil, it is necessary to apply the most stringent and decisive actions. All measures aimed at fighting terrorism can be divided into power and legal, external and internal ones. External measures include:

  1. Adoption of special anti-terrorism laws and close cooperation of countries in fighting against terrorism.
  2. “Economic pressure on countries that support international terrorism.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation). (Whittaker 2007, p. 234)

Foreign experience shows that the most effective form of fighting against terrorism in modern conditions are special operations. Today, many Western countries form special units and special services equipped with the latest technological developments, weapons, and vehicles. They are established in more than 15 western countries; they act within the scale of the state system, in which Special Forces get full support (legal, informational, moral, psychological, and any other) by other institutions and agencies.

If to compare how the British, American, and Australian governments address cyber terrorism, it must be underlined, that the US Government’s legislation today addresses it the strongest. The basis of the state mechanism to counter all kinds of terrorism, including the cyber one, in the U.S. today consists of various federal departments and agencies, endowed with appropriate powers and practical activities are built into the framework of “the concept of a lead agency,” the basic principle of which is that if an thing falls under the control of agencies, it is the responsibility of this office to coordinate all responsible actions. Governments of Australia and the UK, as well as New Zealand’s and Canada’s adopted severe measures such as life imprisonment for all kinds of politically motivated acts of pressure, interfering with infrastructure, in spite of the exacting level of injury caused by the attack. However, this does not mean that every attack in the Internet will be prosecuted and gain the maximum penalty, but it does have stern implications for the available level of discretion and for the right of free will of speech. (Levy, S 2010)


In conclusion it should be said that Internet is used in all spheres of human’s lives, so for thieves that gives the chance to expand the sphere of their action and to develop new schemes of terrorism attacks. Therefore, for the successful struggle against the Internet criminals the first thing to be done is to work out corresponding strategies , secondly – to introduce new tools and the complex and complete approach for catching Hi-Tech criminals, and the thirdly, thing that is too important is to train more highly skilled employees.

It is also clear, that the Trojan defence is considered to be usual in many cases of computer crime and terrorist use it as the main tool. Besides the cyber crime has a worldwide aspect. That is why it is so important for each country to have not just common legal support but connections with other countries. Many local police forces in numerous countries have not special good equipment to fulfil the strategies of the struggle against terrorists in the Internet. However each police organization must take a responsibility and create a cyber-crime line of attack with the help of computer specialists.