Gov't: Terrorists increasingly exploiting tech

Gov't: Terrorists increasingly exploiting tech

Summary: The government and security bodies say terrorists are making greater use of tech and exploiting the growing information infrastructure to hide their activities

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TOPICS: Security
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Terrorists are increasingly using technology to achieve their aims, according to the government.

In a speech at the Homeland & Border Security Conference 2008 in London on Thursday, Admiral Lord West, parliamentary undersecretary of state for security and counter-terrorism, said that terrorists were increasingly harnessing technology to try to achieve their goals.

"Recent plots have been characterised by increasing technological and logistical complexity, including [the use of] false identities, encrypted communications and multiple email addresses," said West.

Information-security company Detica also claimed that terrorists and criminals were increasingly employing technology, and were attempting to exploit the growing information infrastructure to hide their activities.

"Terrorists are using the internet for secure communications, mission planning, assessing targets online and to radicalise the next generation," Tom Black, chief executive of Detica, told ZDNet.co.uk. "Society depends on the information infrastructure; the ability to steal information and deny access is a serious threat."

Black claimed that information-security measures need to be reassessed to be effective, due to the pace of technological change and information expansion.

"We're not moving fast enough," said Black. "The amount of information is doubling every 15 to 18 months."

Instead of collecting and processing ever larger amounts of information in the hope of discovering terrorist plots, Black said, the next-generation approach would be to detect anomalous behaviour in real-time by combining information collected online with information from the physical world.

Black said that eventually "threat prints" could be developed by analysing potential targets, such as the London 2012 Olympic Games, and developing a model of potential terrorist behaviour. Law-enforcement and security agencies could then combine information about anomalous behaviour centred around that event. This would eventually enable law-enforcement bodies to anticipate potential terrorist behaviour "ideally before the terrorist or criminal has been radicalised or recruited".

However, civil liberties campaigners greeted this suggestion with caution. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, told ZDNet.co.uk there was a danger that the mass profiling of behaviour that would be necessary for this scheme to work risked turning the whole population into terrorist suspects.

"The devil's in the detail," said Chakrabarti. "There's a crucial distinction between investigating specific threats and the mass trawling of the population. We need a framework to decide where the line is drawn. [Mass data collection] is not a good idea, as you are in danger of turning the whole population into a suspect."

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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