In the post-9/11 United States, terrorism is one threat of which every American is all too aware. As the internet becomes more important to every aspect of our lives, a new danger might soon replace the fear of traditional attacks: cyberterrorism. The term “cyberterrorism” is a controversial one as some experts use a narrow definition, referring specifically to attacks on information technologies by terrorist organizations in order to create panic. Other authorities, on the other hand, define the term more generally, identifying cyberterrorism as any type of premeditated activity that disrupts the workings of computer networks in order to do harm or to promote political or ideological objectives.
Although cyberterrorism is still being defined, federal authorities do agree that the US must prepare itself for potential threats from nation states, terrorist networks, organized crime gangs, or any other group that could damage the nation through cyber means. During his annual threat assessment, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair warned that a “successful cyberattack against a major financial service provider could severely impact the national economy, while cyberattacks against physical infrastructure computer systems, such as those that control power grids or oil refineries, have the potential to disrupt services for hours to weeks.”
So how likely is it that the United States will face this type of cyberassault in the near future? According to a CNN article , while the threat of cyberterrorism is real, leading authorities do not agree on a specific timeline as to when an attack is likely to occur. In a survey by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 60 percent of those questioned (technology and infrastructure executives) believe that there will be a “major cyberincident” within the US sometime in the next two years. Other experts, however, believe that this type of event is unlikely. Irving Lachow and Courtney Richardson from the National Defense University argued in a 2007 paper that terrorists prefer physical attacks to cyber ones as cyberattacks do not create the same level of fear and disruption.
Despite the conflicting views of leading experts, the federal government has made cybersecurity a top priority. In February the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at protecting the nation from cyberattacks (link to article – the need for good hackers), and President Obama has identified the topic as a leading challenge that the country faces.