For most, the internet has become an indispensible part of modern life. We Tweet about our lives, Facebook with our friends and shop till we drop.
Just like you and me, Terrorists spend a lot of time on the internet. However, their reasons for clicking “like” will be a lot more sinister.
YouTube channels and Facebook pages of Al Qaeda supporters are used to radicalise Western-based sympathisers, and also provide a means for communication between these “lone wolf” actors and larger organised networks of terrorists.
Recently, a 20 year old Moroccan was arrested in Brescia, Italy and accused of making a detailed plan for a terror attack on a Synagogue in Milan. A 40 year old Yemeni woman was also arrested in London over links with this group showing the global reach of many of these sites.
Police claim the accused used “exceptional” computer skills to create secret groups on Facebook.
A statement from police claimed “In this online arena, members could share instructions on how to assemble explosive devices, what chemical ingredients could be bought and the use of weapons”.
Terrorist organizations use the Internet to raise awareness for their cause, to spread propaganda, and to inspire potential operatives across the globe.
Websites operated by terrorist groups can contain graphic images of supposed successful terrorist attacks, lists and biographies of celebrated martyrs, and forums for discussing ideology and methodology.
Al-Quaeda distributes audio, video and graphics via The As-Shahab Institute for Media Production to forums, blogs and file-hosting websites.
Only recently, an English language terrorist publication called Inspire was intercepted by intelligence officials. Many articles within are thought to have come from Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. born radical imam who has been linked to a number of terrorist plots including the attempted Times Square bombing.
Al-Awalki is also thought to have been behind the radicalizing of Nidal M. Hasan, who allegedly committed the November 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect accused of trying to ignite explosives on Christmas Day 2009.
The internet is also used as a way to fund terrorist organisations. Cybercrime has now overtaken drug trafficking as the main source of income for terrorist organisations.
Identity theft, counterfeiting, and other types of computer fraud all provide a higher yield whilst also having the benefit of being carried out under a shroud of anonymity.
The 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali were thought to be partially funded through online credit card fraud.
Given the difficulty in accessing military grade hardware, many online discussions will turn to the homemade manufacture of explosive charges.
Anders Behring Breivik admitted he used instructions he found on the internet to build the bomb he used in his terror attacks on Norway in 2011.
The ingredients used by Breivik to build his bomb were all available to the general public. For example, the main charge was made from Amonium Nitrate and Diesel Fuel obtained from fertilizer.
Many online discussions often turn to how best to build and conceal an IED in order to get through security checkpoints.
In 2009, Al-Quaeda’s expert bomb maker, Ibrahim Al-Asiri, saw the potential of inserting a bomb in the rectum of a suicide bomber.
The plan was to assassinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of the Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror operations.
The suicide bomber got through a number of security measures before setting off his IED as he went to meet the Prince. Fortunately, bin Nayef survived with only a few minor injuries.
A few months later, Al-Asiri got his bomb through security at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, this time concealed in the underpants of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
The IED had no metallic parts, completely cancelling the effectiveness of metal detectors and x-ray machines. Fortunately, the bomb malfunctioned and the plane landed safely.
Recent intelligence suggests Al-Asiri has not given up. Reports tell us he is currently working with doctors on a plan to surgically implant IEDs into the bodies of terrorists.
The next step
While terrorists are very adept at spreading propaganda and communicating online, they have yet to deliver any major cyber attacks on organisations.
At the moment, cyber attacks attributed to terrorists have largely been limited to denial-of service attacks and defacing of websites.
However, as they have shown with their continued innovation in the manufacturing and concealment of bombs, it is clear that they will continue to improve their technical skills in order to deliver a major cyber attack.
Only time will tell.