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Cyberterrorism as the Greatest Risk for the US Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 18th, 2020


Terrorism is one of the most challenging issues in protecting and guaranteeing global peace and stability. Over time, it has evolved to develop new forms of threat. Nowadays, one of the most significant problems is cyber terrorism. Regardless of being less intimidating in terms of shifted lives compared to traditional terrorist attacks, cyber terrorism is still a challenge from the perspective of national security.

That is why the majority of countries, especially those with a robust influence on the global stability, pay special attention to addressing the risks of cyber terrorism. Being one of the most appealing targets for terrorists regardless of the chosen weapons – either cyber or physical attacks – the United States is not an exception to this rule, as the risks are critical.

Therefore, it is essential to identify and investigate the major threats related to cyber terrorism in order to develop efficient protective measures aimed at guaranteeing exceptional quality of national defense and security programs. That being said, the main objective of the paper at hand is to review the greatest cyber terrorism risks for the U.S. with the special focus on the evolution of terrorism and such challenges as malicious applications and programs, network attacks, information wars, digital activism, and polarity of cyber terrorists.


Terrorism has always been a critical challenge in protecting international security and stability. However, it has become even more problematic with the evolution and implementation of the newest technologies in everyday life that has led to the alterations in the common forms of terrorism. One of them is commonly referred to as cyber terrorism – the use of computers for performing terrorist attacks (White, 2014). The main issue with cyber terrorism is the very fact that it is a real threat to the global peace and security, and this threat has numerous different forms. It is especially critical for the most developed countries, such as the U.S., that are among the central targets for terrorists.

Therefore, the paper at hand aims at reviewing the greatest risks of cyber terrorism from the perspective of the U.S. and the country’s position in the global arena. The main focus will be made on identifying the specificities of cyber terrorism so that it is less complicated to understand the sources of the major risks. All in all, the objective of the research is to address such risks of cyber terrorism as malicious applications and programs, network attacks, disinformation or misinformation commonly referred to as information wars, digital activism, and polarity of cyber terrorists when it comes to perceiving the image of the U.S. and determining the objectives of terrorist attacks.

More than that, special attention will be paid to some risk factors, including the elimination of borders between states and the freedom of communication over the Internet that contributes to the increased virtual cooperation and interdependence of terrorists. Finally, greatest risks will be viewed through the prism of integrity and weaknesses of transnational terrorist organizations so that they are explained in a comprehensive and detailed manner.

Specificities of Cyber Terrorism

Cyber terrorism is one of the most critical challenges in the modern world. It is especially significant from the perspective of guaranteeing global peace and stability. Issues related to cyber terrorism are associated with its specificities that contribute to increased safety concerns. That being said, cyber terrorism is characterized by several main features. First and foremost, it is a new concept that emerged with the evolution of the newest technologies and their active implementation in the everyday life of communities across the globe.

Such a notion made it easier to reach potential targets, thus making it more complicated to identify and manage the risks and probabilities of terrorist attacks. From the perspective of the engagement of the newest technologies, the main way to organize cyber attacks is to launch them against separate strategic objects or even whole cities by attacking their power grids, telecommunication networks, and control systems (Jarvis, Macdonald, & Whiting, 2017).

In most cases, it leads to the loss of important information. However, in the most critical instances, it may entail potential human losses. It is especially true when attacking electronic health records or air traffic control systems that are directly associated with the increased risks to human safety (Jarvis et al., 2017; Luna, Rhyne, Myhra, Sullivan, & Kruse, 2016). In addition, cyber terrorism is commonly connected to water contamination, explosions, and plain crashes that are as well related to human loss risks (Jarvis & Macdonald, 2016).

Another specific feature of cyber terrorism is the necessity of possessing at least minimal technical background in order to launch an attack due to the need of designing a code that would initiate it. Due to the criticality of being aware of complex computer techniques, it is evident that the number of cyber terrorists is significantly smaller than that of traditional ones.

Still, this specificity is associated with the potential risks of causing a critical damage to security systems as well as experiencing difficulties in locating the source of threat and addressing it in a proper and timely manner (Jarvis et al., 2017). In addition, another key feature of cyber terrorism is the focus on a particular target. Either a specific object or a whole country, an attack is always developed on the ground of specificities of the target and in order to impose a maximum possible damage to it and everyone connected to it.

All in all, what is special about cyber terrorism is that it is the most intricate form of traditional physical terrorism. Its objective still remains the same, as it centers on reacting to particular social or political issues and developments. However, the scope of the newest technologies implementation makes it easier to attack numerous towns and countries at the same time that is more complicated and challenging in the case of physical terrorism due to the risks of being revealed (Jarvis & Macdonald, 2016). That being said, both strategic and infrastructure objects are exposed to the risks of cyber terrorism with the universal aim – generating fear and causing severe damage.

The Greatest Cyber Terrorism Risks

Based on the specificities of cyber terrorism, it is evident that it stands for socially or politically motivated attacks against countries’ information systems with the aim of causing lasting damage, imposing data and human loss, and generating fear (Jarvis et al., 2017). Nevertheless, regardless of the overall focus of attacks on the target, the final objective may be achieved by different means. Within the context of this research, they will be referred to as cyber terrorism risks. In order to describe the most significant risks related to cyber terrorism, all threats will be grouped as follows: malicious applications and programs, network attacks, information wars, digital activism, and polarity.

Malicious Applications and Programs

The first group of cyber terrorism risks involves malicious applications and programs. It includes different applications and programs aimed at collecting important data and information that may be critical for guaranteeing national stability. In most cases, this software covers worms and viruses. However, in a broader sense, it as well incorporates programs aimed at cyber spies and data (both personal and governmental) theft. From this perspective, these programs may be either installed by individual users themselves or remotely via a wireless network so that a user is not aware of the risks. The latter is commonly associated with governmental attacks.

Network Attacks

Network attacks are the most common and significant risks of cyber terrorism. They stand for the instances when networks are used for stealing vital information and data as well as blocking access to strategically important websites. However, data theft is not the only objective of network attacks. In some case, they are deployed for destroying infrastructural objects, harassing companies and influential individuals, incurring significant economic and social damage, and even making it impossible to carry out or complete important engineering investigations and tests (Dyson, 2012).

From this perspective, network attacks are related to the most significant threats to the national security and stability because of the direct connections with unexpected consequences and vast resources necessary for addressing them.

This challenge is specifically critical in the case of smart cities that are often operated online because terrorists may deploy network attacks to initiate such acts of terror as water contamination, explosions, and traffic system breaches that are connected to the increased risks of human loss (Gordon, Florescu, & Glenn, 2017). In most cases, it emerges from the impossibility to support networks as well as identify unauthorized activities and address them in a timely and proper way. Still, the main problem with network attacks is the very fact that they are related to disruptions in the operation of particular networks so that time is needed to repair them as well as restore the integrity of their work.

Information Wars

Regardless of the desire to collect private and governmental information and strategically important data, cyber terrorism is not limited to it. As the objective of attacks is to generate fear and threaten national stability, it may be commonly achieved by creating fake news posts, hiding important pieces of news or presenting them in a particular (often limited or oversaturated with fake details) light.

This risk is connected to disinformation or misinformation. In general terms, it is referred to as information wars and media battles (Gordon et al., 2017). This trick is commonly used not only by terrorist organizations but also national media with the aims of ruining country’s international image and imposing threats to the internal stability.

In general, media battles or information wars are launched in order to achieve different objectives. One of the most common ones is to demonize an enemy or influential player in the global arena. This demonization is usually perceived as the act of terrorism because they incur social and political instability and generate fear. On the other hand, media battles create a better image of a country or organization than it really is. It means that they may be used for justifying unlawful or terrorist activities. In the case of the United States, it is a significant risk because an aggressive state might either demonize activities aimed at combating the challenge of international terrorism, thus increasing the risks of unnecessary and unjustified criticism of the U.S. peace-imposing initiatives.

Digital Activism

The increased role of digital technologies in the everyday life of society has led to the emergence of the so-called cyber sociality. It stands for the transfer of any socially significant activities to the virtual dimension so that it is more complicated to control them. One of the risks mentioned above – the abovementioned information wars – are closely connected to digital activism – the instance of sharing information that may be related to increased risks to political and social stability (Gordon et al., 2017).

The main challenge of digital activism is the fact that an ordinary Internet user can never find out who is a person behind a particular post. In this way, cyber terrorists may deploy social networks as platforms for generating fear and causing lasing damage to countries’ national security by increasing the level of discontent with the operating legal system, thus entailing higher probabilities of riots and protests. It may be especially critical in case of the newly elected authorities that are perceived as an unfavorable choice for the international community.

Just like in the case of media battles, the issue is connected to the relative freedom of expressing opinions in the virtual dimension as well as the dissolution of borders between states when it comes to the Internet environment. Another issue causing the two risks mentioned above is identity issues, as it is close to impossible to identify an author of a particular post without having a special program (Gordon et al., 2017).

All in all, it is essential to note that media battles and digital activism are a critical risk in the case of the United States because of the active involvement of Al-Qaeda in media and its orientation toward media battles (White, 2014). It means that the representatives of this terrorist organization may deploy media in order to create the needed (commonly negative) image of the U.S. in the regions of their domination, thus making it impossible to succeed in combating international terrorism. At the same time, the same tactics can be used to increase risks of domestic instability that is a threat to national security and stability so it can be classified as cyber terrorism.

Polarity of Cyber Terrorism

Another significant risk associated with cyber terrorism is its polarity. It stands for the differences in initiating terrorist activities and the expected objectives of the act of terror. For instance, they may be launched to steal personal data or cause physical damage. The same is true in case of the sources of terrorist attacks that may vary from programs and application to social networks used for spreading malware.

Because of the mentioned differences, the risks are associated with the impossibility of addressing attacks in a proper way or increased instances of ineffective operation of the system aimed at combating cyber terrorism. From the perspective of the United States, it is even more critical because of the leading role of the state in international relations so that it is turning into one of the most appealing targets for varying types of terrorist attacks.

Other Major Risks to the National Security of the U.S.

Regardless of the criticality of cyber terrorism risks identified and described above, the danger of cyber terrorism is connected to other major risks. First of all, it is significant due to the fact that cyber crimes supplement traditional ones so that the level of crimes is constantly increasing and revealing imperfections of the U.S. criminal justice system. More than that, there is a risk of the potential connections between criminal and terrorist worlds that might make the currently deployed system even more vulnerable (White, 2014).

In addition, cyber terrorism technologies are becoming more intricate, as the new technologies appear and codes turn more complex. However, making protection system more innovative requires time and allocation of additional resources that is commonly characterized by a significant time lag. It means that the system may be exposed to damage until it is upgraded to cope with the newest cyber threats. In this way, it will always be impossible to break out of this vicious cycle because, by the time the criminal justice and national security systems are upgraded to become innovative, new cyber terrorism techniques and technologies will evolve that will, again, impose the necessity of upgrading the systems.


To conclude, it is critical to point to the fact that the risks of cyber terrorism, especially in the case of the United States, are significant. It is connected not only to the influence of the country in the global arena but also active involvement in combating international terrorism, especially the focus on the activities of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant commonly referred to as the ISIS.

From this perspective, the U.S. is exposed to the increased risks of terrorism due to the potentially significant contribution to overcoming the challenge of international terrorism. It means that cyber terrorists may be interested in launching cyber attacks so that the national government switches to addressing domestic issues instead of paying attention to the international ones.

Still, regardless of the criticality of the identified terrorism risks, they may be properly addressed. However, it is essential to state that coping with the challenge of cyber terrorism is associated with the necessity of allocating vast resources and spending a lot of time for filling in the existing gaps. For instance, it is critical to lay stress on the continuous innovation of the criminal justice and national security systems so that the risks of network attacks are minimized.

In addition, it is paramount to invest in the constant development of authentication and digital certification forms so that it is always possible to identify a person who shares information that is related to potential social and political instability issues as well as makes attempts to steal important data and information. Finally, it is of extreme importance to develop nationwide educational programs aimed at increasing the level of technological literacy of ordinary Internet users so that they avoid downloading and using applications and programs developed by unknown corporations, especially foreign ones, pay special attention to computer safety, and remain adequate and thoughtful when online and reading news posted by unknown media agencies or unauthorized users.


Dyson, W.E. (2012). Terrorism: An investigator’s handbook (4th ed.). Waltham, MA: Elsevier.

Gordon, T. J., Florescu, E., & Glenn, J. C. (2017). Identification of potential terrorist and adversary planning. Clifton, VA: IOS Press.

Jarvis, L., & Macdonald, S. (2016). What is cyberterrorism? Findings from a survey of researchers. Terrorism and Political Violence, 27(4), 657-678. Web.

Jarvis, L., Macdonald, S., & Whiting, A. (2017). Unpacking cyberterrorism discourse: Specificity, status, and scale in news media constructions of threat. European Journal of International Security, 2(1), 64-87. Web.

Luna, R., Rhyne, E., Myhra, M., Sullivan, R., & Kruse, C. S. (2016). Cyber threats to health information systems: A systematic review. Technology and Health Care, 24(1), 1-9. Web.

White, J.R. (2014). Terrorism and homeland security (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

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