Cyber terrorism

What is cyber terrorism?

Cyber terrorism (also known as digital terrorism) is defined as disruptive attacks by recognised terrorist organisations against computer systems with the intent of generating alarm, panic, or the physical disruption of the information system.

While we’ve become used to hearing about cyber attacks, cyber terrorism instils a different type of worry. Computer hackers have long worked to gain access to classified information for financial gain, meaning terrorists could do the same

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 is the hacking of government or private servers to access sensitive information or even siphon funds for use in terror activities. However, there is currently no universally accepted definition of cyber terrorism.

Examples of cyber terrorism

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

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 be.

With the steady shift towards online services to reduce costs and improve efficiency, and the continual developments in cyberspace, there are ever increasing ways for IT systems to be compromised

How businesses can defend against cyber terrorism

  • Use strong passwords – there is software capable of guessing thousands of passwords in seconds, so a complicated password is a strong password. Follow password best practices, change them regularly and avoid using the same password for multiple logins
  • Follow cyber security news - Keep up to date with cyber news and government warnings. Knowing the latest threats help you prepare for potential acts of terrorism
  • Create a culture of cyber awareness - all employees should be actively engaged in cyber security education and attend regular training. Stress the importance of staying vigilant and be on the lookout for anything suspicious
  • Vet all third-party vendors - a business’s cyber security posture is only as strong as their third-party vendors. Businesses should demand transparency from vendors regarding cyber security practices before signing contracts or conducting any business.

What to do if a cyber threat is received via telephone

  • Record as many details as possible
  • If it’s an imminent threat call 999 or the anti-terrorist hotline 0800 789 321

How to know if you’ve been hacked

Whether it's your email, social media or some other type of online service, there are many things which can alert you to the fact that someone else is accessing your account. Things to look out for include:

  • Being locked out of the account is an obvious indication that something has gone wrong
  • Logins or attempted logins from strange locations or at unusual times
  • Changes to your security settings and messages sent from your account that you don't recognise.

What to do if you've been hacked

If one of your accounts has been hacked, don't worry, follow the below step by step guide to help you regain control and protect yourself against future attacks.

  • Update your devices - the operating systems and apps on the devices you use should all be updated. These updates will install the latest security fixes. If you have it installed, you can run a scan with up-to-date antivirus software. This is not usually necessary for phones and tablets.
  • Contact your provider - if you can't access your account, go to the account provider homepage, and find a link to their help or support pages. These will detail the account recovery process. If you can't find what you need on the service's website, try a search engine like Google or Bing. For example, ‘Facebook account hacked.’ Then follow the links to the service's own advice.
  • If your email account was hacked - once you've regained control, check your email filters and forwarding rules. It is a common trick for the person hacking an account to set up an email forwarding rule that sends a copy of all your received emails to them. Information on how to do this should be found in your provider's help pages
  • Change passwords - once you have confirmed there are no unwanted email forwarding rules in place, change the passwords on all accounts which have the same password as the hacked account. Then change the passwords for all the other accounts that send password reminders/resets to the hacked account
  • Set up 2-factor authentication - this provides an extra layer of protection against your account being hacked in the future - see guide on using 2-factor authentication (external link)
  • Notify your contacts - get in touch with your account contacts, friends, or followers to let them know you’ve been hacked. This will help them to avoid being hacked themselves. You should contact the people you know regardless of whether you managed to restore your account or not
  • If you cannot recover your account - you may choose to create a new one. Once you've done this, it's important to notify your contacts that you are using a new account. Make sure to update any bank, utility services or shopping websites with your new details
  • Contact action fraud - If you feel that you have been affected by an online crime you can report a cyber incident to Action Fraud (external link) using their online fraud reporting tool.
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