Is cyber-terrorism a myth?

Published February 28, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Nelly Favis-Villafuerte
Nelly Favis-Villafuerte

The world today is reaping the rewards of the technological wonders of the computer as well as suffering the effects of various computer crimes. The computer crimes committed in cyberspace are wide ranging. One such crime is the so-called cyber terrorism.

Cyber terrorism is no longer just a fantasy concocted by our movie lords or by our paranoid populace. It is already a fact. Cyber terrorism could be far more devastating than a biological or chemical warfare. While there is yet no major incident of cyber terrorism – this is no reason to be complacent or to believe that cyber terrorism is just a passing nightmare by people with fertile imagination or a threat confined to the human mind.

In the physical world, terrorists normally target political leaders for assassination; or to take hostages; and in worse cases, conduct random attacks on public government facilities. Today, the havoc resulting by electronically attacking computer networks would be more devastating. And this situation becomes more real as we depend more on computers to operate our electrical systems, telecommunications, gas and oil storage, transportation, water supply services and other related emergency services like ambulances, police, firefighters and other rescue personnel – and even our military facilities. To illustrate: The military has the potential now to wage a war just by sitting at a computer considering the advance and sophisticated guiding and information gathering capability of computers.

In the same way that nations have the capacity to wage war just by sitting at a computer, nations are now more vulnerable to attack because of the advance technologies of computers as applied to our military facilities. Computer experts are now bragging that the sophisticated and advanced computer technology that we have today has the capability to wipe out the commercial, military as well as the civilian infrastructure of a nation.

The awesome danger of computer technology in the field of cyber terrorism is that that terrorists can easily set a bomb by remote control; or knock out the air traffic control; computers resulting in collision; or they can hack computers in military networks and obtain military secrets. Consider for example a scenario where cyber terrorists attack the more than 2.1 million computers linked to about 10,000 local networks of the Pentagon. While there were many attacks in the past on these US military systems, the attacks were not serious. Supposing the attacks will escalate and will result in serious damage?

Remember the Desert Storm – the 1991 Gulf War where Iraq was pitted against the United States and other nations? Computer security experts still remember the 18-year-old Israeli who broke into Pentagon computers and read secret information on the Patriot missile, a major American weapon used to repel attacks by the Iraq’s Scud missiles. Also, other similar incidents occurred during the Desert Storm. Between April 1990 and May 1991 a group of teenagers- Dutch hackers broke into the US military computers – at 34 different sites of the army, navy and the air force. The hackers were able to read confidential data on military personnel, as well as the type and amount of military equipment being sent to the Gulf including information about missile targeting and other important weapons. In short, information about troop movements and military capabilities were stolen. The Dutch hackers offered the above military information for $1 million to the Iraqis. The late Saddam Hussein did not bite. The Iraqis thought that the offer was nothing but a hoax. Had Saddam paid the one million dollars to get hold of the military information – who knows… the outcome of the war may have turned out differently.

Are our laws adequate to resolve cases involving activities of cyber terrorists? There are provisions in our Revised Penal Code relating to public order, public interest and public property which can be applied to cases on cyber terrorism. There are also special laws like Presidential Decrees (PDs) and Republic Acts (RAs) which may be relevant to cyber terrorism like the following: The Anti-Wire Tapping Act (RA 4200); Presidential Decree 1811 (amending PD 9, PD 1728 and PD 1069 – on extradition).

Have a joyful day!

(For comments/reactions please send to Ms. Villafuerte’s email: [email protected]).