Fundamentals of cybercrime & cyberterrorism

Firstly, the terms Cybercrime and Cyberterrorism will be analysed and defined, in an effort to identify how they have been used over the past years, what are their similarities, differences and incorrect usages. Secondly, the two terms will be analysed in regards to real events of Cybercrime and Cyberterrorism and how such events lead to new government policy. The third part investigates how all these affect the psychology of the public and look into how individuals and groups have reacted in such cases. Finally, the last part aims to identify some potential solutions to the problem.

Cyberterrorism is also clearly an emerging threat. Terrorist groups are increasingly computer savvy, and some probably are acquiring the ability to use cyber-attacks to inflict isolated and brief disruptions of global infrastructure. Due to the prevalence of publicly available hacker tools, many of these groups probably already have the capability to launch denial-of-service and other nuisance attacks against Internet-connected systems. As terrorists become more computer savvy, their attack options will only increase.

As the global reach of the Internet keeps growing, its effect on all areas of online human endeavor becomes more pervasive. Individuals or groups can exploit the anonymity afforded by cyberspace to engage in illegal or illicit activities that aim to intimidate, harm, threaten or cause fear to citizens, communities, organisations or countries. The virtual and physical distance between the attacker and the victim and the difficulty in tracing back the attack to an individual minimises the inherent threat of capture to the attacker. But how are such activities defined? What is a Cybercrime and what are its characteristics? How can a Cyberterrorist be identified and what are his or her differences from a Cybercriminal? So far, the definitions for Cybercrime and Cyberterrorism in literature, government documents and everyday use have been highly varied, context-specific and emotionally loaded, which makes discourse on the subject difficult.

There are three distinct definitions of Cyberterrorism: “Terrorism that initiates…attack[s] on information”, to “the use of Cyber tools” and “a criminal act perpetrated by the use of computers”

Cybercrime and Cyberterrorism have been used to describe online acts such as:

  • Black-hat hacking / Cracking
  • Child sex offences  (pornography and grooming)
  • Crimes in virtual worlds
  • Cyber activism / Hacktivism
  • Virus writing and malware
  • Cyberstalking
  • Identity theft / Fraud
  • Illegal financial transactions / Money laundering
  • Copyright infringement
  • Serious acts of cyberbullying
  • Denial of service attacks
  • Rogue bot-nets


Cyberterrorism usually has a stronger meaning than Cybercrime, describing acts that have similar characteristics to real-world terrorism attacks, but not always. On the other hand, Cybercrime is often used as a catch-all term to describe illegal, harmful and/or hostile activity on the Internet (including Cyberterrorism). Furthermore, other terms are sometimes used to describe similar illicit online acts, which complicate things even more, and their use is typically dependent on the context or the person/organisation that uses them. For example, a spokesperson within the military is likely to use the term Cyberwarfare to describe hostile online acts between two countries and/or acts of terrorism that originate from another country and are manifested online (instead of using the term Cyberterrorism).

Cybercrime and Cyberterrorism are two issues that are likely to continue to exist for many years to come and they surely must be dealt with. But this process needs to be done in a way that will ensure the growth of the Internet in an inclusive and open way, maintaining the fundamental principles that it has been built upon. One of the principal issues is the disambiguation of the terms Cybercrime and Cyberterrorism. Government bodies, policy networks, scholars, the media and the people need to engage in a global conversation that will help demythologize Cybercrime and define what constitutes a Cybercrime and how Cybercriminals should be dealt with. Cyberterrorism should be decoupled from Cybercrime and be specified in realistic terms, as to what are the probable threats of a Cyberterrorist act and to what extend society should go to face such effects. After these two terms have been clearly and unambiguously defined, people will be much better equipped to receive and comprehend related news and policies, and will be able to engage in a meaningful discourse over the subject. This will help alleviate unwarranted fears while at the same time enable individuals to make informed decisions when considering a new proposed policy by weighing its pros versus the cons and its effects on multiple levels, long and short term , instead of giving-in to fear and forfeiting their privacy and online freedom for better security.

The role of the media (television, blogs, online news outlets and more) is critical in the process of educating the public and engaging in a conversation, as they will be the mediators and curators of information and discourse on the issue. Thus, a concise and sensible approach, devoid of fear-mongering and shock practices, should be followed. Since this is an international issue, governments and policy networks across the world have to come together and discuss openly on what is better for their citizens. Scholars and academics can provide valuable expertise on technological, psychological, ethical and other issues, while highlighting any misgivings by those involved in the process. The people in their local communities, families and social networks should help and train each other to increase their peers’ level of Internet literacy and highlight the advantages of the web. A higher Internet literacy level can help people protect themselves even better by taking simple security measures, such as using anti-virus software and identifying potential risks or scams in their online financial transactions.

It is clear that the accelerating growth of the cyber landscape presents both significant opportunities and critical challenges. On the one hand, online technologies present many benefits such as global and fast access to information, entertainment, education and more. On the other hand, the technological developments that produce these benefits also present risks. As people go online they may also be exposed to sources that are inappropriate, or subjected to contact with individuals who may want to cause them harm. The same websites, applications and games that Internet users access for professional or personal reasons may also contain or lead to exploitative advertisements, offensive language, sexually explicit material, violent or illegal content, scams, bullying, or even child predators.

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