Hollywood ensures cyberterror myth will Die Hard

Hollywood ensures cyberterror myth will Die Hard

Summary: Next summer will see another blockbuster based on the idea of terrorists using IT for malicious ends, but it's not just Hollywood that's guilty of hyping the threat

TOPICS: Tech Industry

Let nobody tell you IT security isn't exciting. No less an action hero than Bruce Willis is even now struggling into his vest for another Die Hard outing, this time to defend the free world against cyberterrorism. According to reports, the story centres on an attack on America's computer infrastructure that begins to shut the country down.

You and I both know that there's no such thing as a cyberterrorist. You can't blow people up on the Internet. Hollywood may think otherwise, but Hollywood can't tell fact from fiction. It thrives on fantasy: harmless enough, until people start believing it.

The US Department of Defense defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of — or threatened use of — force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies." Cyberterrorism, it follows, must be terrorism conducted using or against one or more computers. But while there are plenty of instances of politically motivated hacking, mostly defacement of Web sites, a terrorist group has have never actually destroyed online infrastructure in order to elicit terror or kill people.

Gartner analyst Richard Mogull recently told ZDNet UK that although terrorists are undoubtedly using the Internet to communicate amongst themselves and as a research tool, their use of the Internet as a delivery vehicle for a significant, digital attack is not grounded in reality. "Despite the heightened sense of civilian unease and government vigilance in developed countries since 11 September, there hasn't been a validated case of 'cyberterrorism' worldwide. There have been no losses of life or property because of a digital attack," he told us.

Not that this has stopped politicans from hyping the issue. In November of last year, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard called for the appointment of a cybersecurity Tsar to protect the UK from "the clear and present danger to its national security" and claimed that imprisoned al-Qaeda members have admitted that their organisation has been attempting to develop cyberthreats to strike Western governments. Even the phrasing is stolen from Tinsel Town.

"Security experts", whoever they are, are frequently willing...

Topic: Tech Industry

Andrew Donoghue

About Andrew Donoghue

"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

Hunter S. Thompson

Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journalist with over ten years on leading titles such as Computing, SC Magazine, BusinessGreen and ZDNet.co.uk.

Specialising in sustainable IT and technology in the developing world, he has reported and volunteered on African aid projects, as well as working with charitable organisations such as the UN Foundation and Computer Aid.



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  • I was hoping we might find some middle ground on this issue. People seem to be polarized at either end of the spectrum. I do not believe that cyber terrorism represents a clear and present danger. However, I do believe it is an area that needs to be investigated and monitored. I do not believe that cyber terrorists will have access to techniques and skills to which hackers don't already have access. Therefore, if we are hardened against hackers we are hardened against cyber terrorists.

    Is cyber terrorism hyped? Absolutely! But just because a threat is exaggerated, doesn't mean it's not a threat. Also, just because it hasn't happened, doesn't mean it won't.
  • Mark Pritchard MP - the man who ignores the data protection act and cc's in about 200 email address' for his 'save our hospital campaign' email newsletter.


    He's clearly qualified for the job!
  • A lot of people with out much knowledge.

    As someone from the old world of hacking i can tell you know, cyber terrorism is very real, very real, they have just not exercised it yet.