Cyberterrorism: Swansea University experts lead international efforts to understand the threat

It conjures up images from the movies, where a lone hacker brings down the government. Yet, in spite of the attention lavished upon it - and despite the money poured into preventing it - no-one really knows what cyberterrorism is, or how significant a threat it poses

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To try to answer these questions, researchers from Swansea University will be hosting experts from around the globe at a major NATO-supported conference on the issue, on 11-12 April.

Swansea University is the home of the Cyberterrorism Project, which brings together researchers from different subjects to look at all sides of this issue, including identifying the threat, and improving ways of tackling it. 

The conference will feature leading researchers on terrorism, cyberterrorism and cybersecurity from the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Italy, Romania, Australia, the US, and beyond, as well as politicians, policymakers, police and experts from industry.  Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the former Independent Reviewer of UK Terrorism Legislation, is a keynote speaker.

Dr Lee Jarvis, senior lecturer at Swansea University, and one of the leaders of the Cyberterrorism Project, said:

'We’ll be looking at what - if anything - cyberterrorism is, and how it relates to other forms of terrorism, protest and warfare. What size risk does it pose, and what are the major legal, political and technical challenges we face in tackling it.

To answer questions such as these it is vital that we work closely with colleagues from different disciplines and different countries, and that’s why this gathering of international experts is so important.' 

Defining cyberterrorism, and deciding how, or even if, it differs from other terrorisms, is not straightforward.  Researchers from the Cyberterrorism Project suggested examples which illustrate the difficulty: do they count as cyberterrorism?

  • Buying material online for use in a terrorist attack - as the 9/11 attackers did with their plane tickets
  • Using publicly available digital maps to plan an attack
  • A terrorist organisation hosting propaganda on their own website
  • A 14 year old boy temporarily bringing down a government website
  • Two members of a terrorist cell communicating in a chat room
  • The Stuxnet malware attack on Iranian nuclear plant in 2010

Already the Project team have completed a global survey of expert opinion on cyberterrorism, and they are also currently completing the world’s first database of different definitions of this term.  The results of the conference, which will be published by Springer after the event, will add to this growing body of expertise on the subject.  

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