The gun-waving terrorist, on horse-back, or in a jeep, or, maybe, on top of a tank, is an image we are all familiar with. Terrorist groups scramble all over each other to take “credit” for attacks, real or imagined, so we think all terrorists crave the spotlight, the way a Gaddafi (more than 100 different spellings of “Gaddafi” have appeared in various news releases) revels in publicity, or did. However, even for terrorists, there are downsides to having an Internet presence, and here are some of them.
- Anonymity – While many terrorists adore the limelight, and like to put out videos a la Osama Bin Laden, others prefer to work in secrecy.
- Security – Online chatter can give away terrorist plots, and locations of terrorist cells and suppliers, so some groups stay away from Internet communication.
- Assessment – The more information a terrorist group has out on the Internet, the better able is the opposition to determine the viability of the terrorist organization.
- Internet No Substitute for Reality – Experts say that effective terrorist attacks, such as the 2008 assault on Mumbai, would not have worked if attackers had not had real-world training, and had, instead, relied on instruction via the Internet.
- Confusion – Along with the proliferation of terrorist websites has come a bevy of “false” terrorist websites; sites whose purpose is to lure unwary “wannabe” terrorists into traps.
- Disinformation – False and/or misleading information has been disseminated through terrorist groups that maintain an online presence.
- Two-Way-Street – Terrorists love to hack into sensitive computer networks, but when they do, they leave themselves open to cyber-attacks as well.
- The Personal Touch – Charisma is difficult to translate into a virtual world; for a terrorist to whip a crowd into a frenzy, or to strong-talk a recruit, it usually takes a hands-on approach. Once enrolled, the recruits will respond to virtual leadership, but they must first be won-over in-person.
- Follow The Money – Terrorists raise money on a world-wide level, and when they do so using computers, counter-terrorists can often track the source of the funding, which can stop the flow of money, and give away other key information.
- Demographics – Counter-terrorists are able to mine data recovered from terrorist use of the web in order to help predict where and who recruitment efforts will be focused on. In the same way retailers use demographics to target consumers, terrorist groups use similar data to determine who is most likely to “buy-in” to the terrorist ideology.
The vast majority of terrorist activities have, at least, some connection to the cyber-world, but the ones who must be feared most are the ones flying below the Internet radar.