Introduction

Almost every person in the world has a vague idea of what terrorism is. Using violent means to achieve political goals especially by targeting innocent civilians is a hallmark of terrorism but in the last two or three decades, the world has come to realize that terror can be inflicted on countries and organizations not just through guns and bombs but also through digital networks and the internet.

The damage that these attacks can cause is incalculable given mankind’s dependence on the internet and information technology and such attacks are usually referred to as Cyber terrorism. Instances of Cyber-terror have increased exponentially in the past few decades and Cybersecurity has been forced to adapt to defend information systems and sensitive information and data from Cyber terrorists.

In this article let us look at:

  1. What is Cyber Terrorism?
  2. Examples of Cyber Terrorism
  3. Punishment for Cyber Terrorism
  4. How big is the threat of Cyber Terrorism?

1) What is Cyber Terrorism?

In simple words, when terrorist organizations use the internet to further their goals and objectives, it is considered to be Cyber terrorism. Information and communication technology, commonly referred to as ICT, has changed the world as we know it but also offers plenty of scopes for terror outfits to expand, recruit, and propagandize on various ICT platforms. The internet can be used by terrorists to finance their operations, train other terrorists, and plan terror attacks. The more mainstream idea of Cyber terrorism also includes the hacking of government or private servers to access sensitive information or even siphon funds for use in terror activities. There is no universally accepted definition of Cyber terrorism however till date.

2) Examples of Cyber Terrorism

There are hundreds of examples of Cyber terrorism and some of them have been listed below.

  1. Introduction of viruses to vulnerable data networks.
  2. Hacking of military servers to disrupt communication and steal sensitive information. 
  3. Defacing websites and making them inaccessible to the general public thereby causing inconvenience and financial losses.
  4. Hacking communication platforms to intercept or stop communications and make terror threats using the internet.
  5. Attacks on financial institutions to transfer money to the cause of terror.

Apart from these examples mentioned above, there are many more instances where the internet can be used to launch Cyber attacks on governments, agencies, and institutions that do not agree with or stand against the terror organizations. All such attacks aimed at achieving the objectives of terror can be classified as Cyber terrorism.

3) Punishment for Cyber Terrorism

Different countries have different laws to tackle Cyber terrorism and since there is a lack of a universal definition, these vary greatly from country to country. In India, it is the Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter the IT Act) that defines and prescribes the punishment for Cyber terrorism. It was in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks that shook the country that this law was amended in 2008 to address the Cyber terrorism threat to national security.  Accordingly, Section 66F was inserted into the IT Act which is the closest thing we have to a Cyber terrorism Act. 

According to the IT Act, Cyber terrorism is:

  1. Any act was done with the intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security, or sovereignty of India or to strike terror into the people of India.
  2. An act that denies access to computer resources or attempts to access a computer resource without authorization.
  3. The introduction of any computer contaminant that is likely to cause death or injury to people or damage or destruction of property.
  4. Disrupting services that are essential to the life of the community or adversely affecting the critical information infrastructure in the country.
  5. Attempting to access information or data that is restricted to ensure national security, public health, and order and good foreign relations.
  6. An act that promotes contempt of court, defamation, or incites others to commit an offense.

The punishment for an act of Cyber terrorism in India is imprisonment which may extend to imprisonment for life. Even an attempt to commit an act of Cyber terrorism draws the same punishment. In some circumstances, Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code may also be invoked to punish the individual as it covers the waging of a war against the Government of India.

4) How big is the threat of Cyber Terrorism?

Since Cyber terrorism does not involve the actual use of physical violence to inflict harm on innocents, most individuals are unaware of what it means and how dangerous it can really be. With the development and constant changes in Cyberspace, how information technology systems can be compromised is also increasing. In India, especially in the last few years, a steady shift has been made to online services to reduce costs and improve efficiency. From passport offices and income tax collection to stock markets and banks, a large number of institutions that form the backbone of the Indian economy and country, in general, are heavily dependent on the internet daily.

It would take just a few hours or less for a Cyber-terrorist to take down an important institution like a bank or the stock market by infiltrating the servers if the Cybersecurity employed is not up to the mark. With massive databases like the Aadhar database or the driving license information databases in the states, sensitive information and person details of over 1 billion Indians are stored on digital networks and if any of these databases are compromised it could lead to damage that is long-lasting and potentially irreversible.

The Cyber terrorism threat does not come only from terror outfits but also from neighboring countries that do not share cordial relations with India and this enhances the need for a more robust legal framework and improved Cybersecurity. There exists a general lack of awareness in India at both the institutional and individual levels concerning matters surrounding Cybersecurity and the system also suffers due to the loopholes that plague the legal framework that is set up to tackle Cyber terrorism. The laws are also out-dated and have not evolved sufficiently to tackle the constantly changing threats to Cybersecurity.

Conclusion

To protect ourselves against such attacks and counter the Cyber terrorism threat to national security, the Government of India will have to ensure that Cybersecurity systems are up to date and fully capable of fending them off. With each passing day, more and more anti-state outfits are moving their operations to the internet and it is therefore crucial for individuals as well as governments to remain vigilant and improve efforts to make databases more secure and trustworthy.

There needs to be more attention given to the training and encouragement of Cybersecurity professionals to meet the ever-increasing demand in the country as well as the world. One factor that could certainly improve the efforts to tackle Cyber terrorism would be a universally accepted definition across the world. As individuals, we can also play a role by ensuring that we follow the Cyber-safety advisories and recommendations that are usually issued by governments and Information and Communication technology institutions.

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