THE MAGAZINE

Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, The New Challenges

By Richard Petraitis, CPP

***** Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, The New Challenges. By Gabriel Weimann; published by the United States Institute of Peace, bookstore.usip.org (Web); 320 pages; $20.

Gabriel Weimann, professor of communications at Haifa University in Israel, has produced a disturbing analysis of the extraordinarily popular use of the Internet by violent extremist organizations seeking a global forum. Most alarmingly, since the late 1990s, the number of Web sites for these groups has increased dramatically. While it can be an instrument to promote global communication and to spread democracy, the Internet also facilitates the communications of organizations openly opposed to those ideals.

As Weimann details, many of today’s terrorists are computer-savvy and willing to engage in asymmetrical warfare to promote their ideology. Some terror groups now communicate almost exclusively over the Web. Gone are the days when terrorists had to smuggle audiotapes or videotapes via courier, thus exposing themselves to physical surveillance. Now they can just post their messages on the Internet.

Weimann outlines various uses of the Web by terrorists. They include fundraising, recruitment, threats, data mining, the transmission of instructions and manuals, and the coordination of operations. Apparently, al Qaeda has moved training to the Internet after the devastating coalition attacks that swept away the terror group’s training camps in Afghanistan. Weimann also says that Hezbollah and other groups are targeting children for both recruitment and training through the use of interactive video games.

Refreshingly, the author doesn’t limit himself to Muslim terror groups. He covers the Basque ETA, the Colombian FARC, and other organizations that use the Net.

Also noteworthy is Weimann’s discussion of cyberterrorism. Despite rampant hype, he notes that there has not been a single substantiated instance of a cyberattack directed by terrorists against U.S. power plants and grids, transportation systems, or any other part of the U.S. infrastructure. Yet he doesn’t dismiss the need for vigilance.

Weimann also presents innovative strategies for limiting terrorists’ use of the Internet while at the same time attempting to preserve the civil liberties of Internet users. Methods include removing terror group information from the Net, having Internet service providers ban terrorist Web sites, directly attacking terrorist Web sites, cracking encryption used by terror groups, and identifying traffic on terror sites via sniffers.

This book is a vital addition to the security bookshelf. Skip it—and remain intellectually unarmed in this new front of the war in cyberspace—at your own peril.


Reviewer: Richard Petraitis, CPP, is a private detective working in the State of Illinois. He is a member of ASIS International.

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