There was a time when it was feared that al Qaeda members
might develop the skills to commit terrorist attacks via the Internet. The only
comfort in that was the fact that al Qaeda did not attract a lot of geeks to
their ranks, and there was little evidence that this was changing. But the
world of Internet warfare is changing, and it?s changing in al Qaeda?s favor.
This is because the tools of Internet terrorism are, increasingly, for hire. No
questions asked. It?s like buying guns, false ID or explosives on the criminal
black market. Al Qaeda has been doing this for a long time. Now they can buy
the tools that an unskilled operator can use to carry out Internet based
attacks. All it takes is money, and minimal Internet skills, which we know many
al Qaeda members and supporters have.
The simplest, and cheapest, weapons, are botnets, used for
DDOS attacks. In plain English, that means buying access to hundreds, or thousands,
of home and business PCs that have had special software secretly installed.
This allows whoever installed the software that turned these PCs into
?zombies,? to do whatever they want with these machines. The most common thing
done is to have those PCs, when hooked up to the Internet, to send as many
emails, or other electronic messages, as it can, to a specified website. When
this is done with lots of zombies (a ?botnet?), the flood of messages becomes a
DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack that shuts the target down. This
happens because so much junk is coming in from the botnet, that no one else can
use the web site.
But there are even more dangerous cyberwar weapons for sale
out there. You can get software modified to take advantage of largely unknown
Internet vulnerabilities, that allow the user access to many business,
government and military computers. This sort of thing is called, "using
high value exploits" (flaws in code that are not yet widely known). This
is a lot more expensive, and requires more skill to use. But, more and more,
there are hackers for hire. Skilled hackers, who know they are working on the
wrong side of the law, and know how to do the job, take the money, and run.
This situation has developed because organized crime has discovered the
Internet, and the relatively easy money to be made via Internet extortion and
Counter-terrorism experts know that Islamic terrorists are
on to this sort of thing. They know this
because many of the Moslem Internet criminals that have been arrested in
the last few years, have had connections to Islamic terrorists. So far, the al
Qaeda crowd have been using cybercrime mainly as a means to raise money. But we
know that they know all about the dark side of the Internet.
As the months go by, more and more ?chatter? is picked
up on the Internet, of Islamic radicals discuss how to carry out Internet
terrorism. They have the intent, they have access to the tools. It?s only a
matter of time before they act.