New technologies are being used to plan terrorist attacks, according to the government’s new security strategy
The role of new technologies such as cloud computing and social networks in fuelling ‘cyber-jihad’ is a key focus of the government’s new counter-terrorism strategy, called CONTEST, unveiled on Tuesday.
The government warned that such technologies are allowing terrorists to interact more secretly and to lure in people who might not normally actively search for terrorism-related content.
“Twitter will be used to re-post media or forum articles enabling extremist content to be shared more quickly, widely and amongst people who would not normally search for extremist content,” the strategy document states.
The strategy specifically warns of the danger from al-Qaeda, which has called for the use of technology in terrorism.
“Since the death of Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda has explicitly called not only for acts of lone or individual terrorism but also for ‘cyber-jihad’,” the strategy states. “There have been a number of attempts by terrorist and extremist groups to ‘invade’ Facebook.”
Terrorists are using newer technologies such as encrypted mobile communications, file-sharing networks and cloud computing to store and share material online more easily while remaining undetected, the government said.
“Terrorists are increasingly using online technology, including Google Earth and Street View, for attack planning,” said May. “While radicalisation continues primarily to be a social process, terrorists are making more and more use of new technologies to communicate their propaganda.”
The recent attacks in Mumbai were coordinated using ‘off-the-shelf’ communications technology, according to the report.
Last year the government said cyber warfare was one of the most serious ‘Tier 1’ threats to British security and £650 million was set aside to strengthen cyber infrastructure.
The government has warned recently of sustained attacks on its resources, with Defence Secretary Liam Fox recently speaking of more than 1,000 attempted cyber attacks on his department in the past year.
The report said there was no evidence of “systematic cyber-terrorism” to date but it said last year’s “here you have” virus, released by the group “Tariq bin Ziyad Brigades for Electronic Jihad”, was a “likely indicator of a future trend”.
The government is aiming to reduce the gap between numbers of suspected terrorists and the numbers prosecuted or deported, and in pursuit of this will introduce a programme to update the legal framework for intercepting communications and obtaining data.
The government will also look for new ways of capturing the details of financial transactions in order to track down terrorists’ funding networks.
Al-Qaeda still a threat
The government said that while al-Qaeda is weaker now than it has been in the past ten years, other threats have increased.
“Al-Qaeda continues to be a significant threat and other terrorist groups, some affiliated to Al Qaeda, have become stronger; the threat from Northern Ireland related terrorism has also increased,” the government stated.
According to Mark Darvill, director of security firm AEP Networks, the government must ensure that the highest levels of security are in place in order to protect the UK’s national intelligence.
“It’s unlikely that a terrorist group would have the resources necessary to mount a sophisticated cyber-attack against national assets. Having said that it would be dangerous to dismiss this as mere ‘posturing’,” said Darvill. “Low level ‘nuisance’ attacks such as we’ve seen perpetrated recently by Lulz Security can still cause a great deal of inconvenience and lead to confidential information getting into the wrong hands. This could potentially be very dangerous both for individuals and the organisation concerned.”