Cybersecurity. How Extremist Organizations Use Technology Internationally Versus How Governments Use Technology

Academic Paper 2018 12 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Peace and Conflict Studies, Security




Why extremists use cyberspace/ internet & technology

Why is Information technology in the U.S. so vital?

The Challenges of U. S’s cyber Strategy

Future Implications/ Suggestions for Progressing the Combat of Cyber Attacks From Extremists




Extremists have always had some method in which they make their presence known whether it be via messages, phone, or through acts of violence and terror to convey a point. However, more recently in the past two decades, extremists began catching onto a more modern method of communicating : the use of the internet. What used to be a simple method for people to surf the web, purchase household items, and perform other daily activities has now been compromised as a channel for extremists to recruit and make financial advances (and prey on those using the internet unknowingly). Extremists have been turning their attention toward internet infiltration since the Chechen- Russian conflict era. However, extremists’ more increased use of the internet can be traced back to the beginning of when the United States and a few other partners went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000’s. The internet became widely known amongst muslim youth as a transnational mode of communication, which catalyzed the ideologies of several muslim youth making for easier targets within the United States (Thomas, 2009).

Along with extremists’ increased use of internet sources came their enhanced creativity when it came to use of the internet as a channel for recruitment, radicalization, and for financial support and assistance. Most of the time, extremists begin their setup and acts of compromising internet within countries that are underdeveloped, which makes their process of recruiting, gaining finances, and radicalization far more simple. Through underdeveloped countries, extremists are able to attack both the media and culture within that area because of their lack of keeping up with the latest in spread of information and cultural sharing (Thomas, 2009).

The government has long experienced extremists probing millions of people’s information in attempt to gain insight into United States’ files and intelligence. Since the infiltration of the United States’ government intelligence was compromised, the country has enhanced their security features, but extremists have continued to increase their attempts and actual successful attempts at breaching security and obtaining U.S. government plans. Over almost two decades, extremists have more frequently attempted to gain access into networks within the country to find out what military plans are in place so that they can be placed into the hands of unknown networks of United States’ enemies (Lynn, 2010). About ten years ago, one of the most significant successful infiltrations by extremists was in 2008 when a infectious flash drive was inserted into a U.S. military computer, which caused a major blow to the security of the Department of Defense (DOD) as the most notable breach of military computers to ever occur towards the U.S. Both classified and unclassified systems were compromised and this led to the initiation of a turning point in the history of the United States’ cyber security strategies (Lynn, 2010).

According to Lynn (2010), the United States’ Pentagon commenced Operation Buckshot Yankee, which was a chance for the United States to convey the message to extremists that their use of infiltration to gain access to files for use of terror would simply not be tolerated. There are terrorist cells in well over 60 countries that are constantly using internet and technology devices to spread their extremist ideologies, conspires, and gain funding to strengthen their movements. In this globally linked world, there are over one billion internet users, which makes it easier for extremists and terror activities to communicate and conspire at a rate far more up to speed than that of the United States’ government along with other countries. Although the United States has constantly devoted a plethora of resources to the combatment of extremist and terror activities, there is still a considerable amount of effort and work along with strategies to be put in simply because the attacks and attempts of enemies have multiplied and constantly changed (Westby, 2007). With that said, the purpose of this research is to investigate both the government and extremists use of technology and discuss why the governments use and enhanced strategies are vital, along with providing suggestions for future research and practicing of cyber security strategies.

Why extremists use cyberspace/ internet & technology

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been of significant relevance over the years when it comes to extremists actively employing the use of this new type of terrorism. ICTs render a more modern method of communication, diffusion of command and control, and make way for the attacker to target their opponents and files in an easier manner. There are no actual tangible boundaries to cyberspace, which is why extremists and terror groups have elected to use this mode of communication, and they are also able to assemble and disperse at undetectable rates when it comes to their operations (Whine, 1999). Extremists also use cyberspace as their chance to gather and share their views and magnify prejudices and separation of groups politically, religiously, and racially. With the continued growth and constant enhancements of cyberspace, extremists will continue to attempt advocating their opponents government as well as the human race within the targeted country. They will continue to be growing powers and wage war through their attacks in their continued attempts to convey messages and force change upon resisting nations and opponents (Whine, 1999).

Jacobson (2010) and Whine (1999) both point out that extremists use cyberspace because it is a cheaper and more anonymous form of gaining finances. Remaining covert has been one of the most notable trends among extremists in the most recent years (Whine, 1999). While being able to remain unnoticed by the opponents, extremists use the internet to gain finances in which helps increase their ability to spread their ideas through propaganda and more quickly setup stations and support any other activities they intend on participating in. To obtain funding, extremists will use scam sites to persuade people to pay fines, or even simply convince fellow muslims or people of their descent that they should provide financial support in effort to continue making their nation stronger, unknowing that they would be contributing to the attacks on another nation. Additionally, extremists will go so far as to saying that their organization is a non- profit charity needing to reach a specific monetary goal and this is one of extremists most lucrative forms of compromising cyberspace because humanitarians are considered weak, which places actual charities at a large rate of susceptibility for being robbed through the web unnoticed (Jacobson, 2012).

ICTs serve as a large mode of expansion and multiplication of power and ability for extremists to have an extended reach to groups well outside of their groups (Whine, 1999 & Gerstenfeld, Grants, & Chiang, 2003). The use of internets sites especially, along with other forms of ICTs allow for communication to current extremists’ group members as well as recruitment of new members. This then makes room for extremists to educate their new members and spread their ideas at an even more rapid rate. The new members can quickly help with the distribution and sell of merchandise, “education” (Gerstenfeld, Grants, & Chiang, 2009, pg 30) of the intended general public, and even serve as a catalyst for the application of hate crimes and other attacks. According to Gerstenfeld, Grants, & Chiang (2009), there has been little research in reference to extremists actual uses of internet and other ICTs, which would be beneficial to focus upon with their rapidly expanding and occurring uses and infiltration of other systems and classified government files.

Why is Information technology in the U.S. so vital?

Information technology is something that the United States thrives heavily from. A plethora of advantages for the U.S. surrounds information technology ranging from the local to the national side. Information technology is one of the factors that makes the U.S. so attractive as a target because the country has some of the most advanced technologies underlying the systems (Freeman, 2001). Many businesses at the government and private level have diffused different components of their companies into these new technologies, which offers a high level of compromise that could occur in the event of a breach in security, thus stressing the importance of enhanced information technology security. The evolution of technology within the U.S. itself is so vital because it is being continuously innovated and security measures need to continuously be heightened right along with the new innovations (Freeman, 2001).

Xu, Zhu, & Gibbs (2004) explained in an article that the U.S’s engagement in the adoption of technology has also increased gaps and vulnerabilities, which can also make for the compromising of millions of people’s personal information. In several articles, it is said that extremists have their title for a reason, meaning that they will go through any measures to to gain information and whatever else they desire. Large businesses that use e-commerce as means of shopping could easily be breached by extremists, thus increasing significant technical issues that could occur. (Xu, Zhu, & Gibbs, 2004). With that said, information technology is so vital within the U.S. not only for governments and private business, but it also plays an integral role in the simple everyday life of U.S. citizens whether it be from simply sending and receiving emails to attending school. The depth of technology is something that will continue to evolve and the U.S. will be charged with the task of keeping up (Xu, Zhu, & Gibbs, 2004).

The Challenges of U. S’s cyber Strategy

The U.S. is constantly challenged with finding more aggressive methods when it comes to countering cyber threats and attacks. This is because cyber threats and attacks are far more prominents and damaging compared to how discrete and less damaging they were in earlier years. The actual number, rate, and volume in which cyber attacks now occur are countless and haves several different motivations behind why terror groups execute the attacks. Some use cyber attacks for financial gain while others may use cyber attacks simply for political gains, but either way a task is always at hand when it comes to bring the attacks and cyber threats to a minimum (Choo, 2011).

Choo (2011) used the Routine Activity Theory as a suggestion for means of combating cyber attacks, suggesting that the changing of certain activities form the government and other web users would reduce the chance for cyber attacks to take place and in turn, increase the likelihood that the attacker would be detected or caught in the act of attempting to infiltrate. As individuals, communities, and as a nation as a whole ICTs place anyone and anything at a higher risk for attack simply because the exposure is present, making it easier for extremists and any other inspired culprits to victimize at any time through the web (Choo, 2011).

The difficulties of being able to directly target and interpret an extremist website is another issue that the U.S. faces when it comes to combatives related to cyber warfare. The U.S. is considered the most technologically advanced country on Earth, which offers another challenge simply because the country is the absolute most targeted for any type of terror activities (McConnell, 2010). According to McConnell (2010), resources are not the concern when it comes to enhancing cyber security to prevent attack but instead the amount and strategies in which the U.S. defends is instead the issue at large.

The hacking and infiltration of so many widely used networks allows room for chances of increased disruption to both the financial and accounting matters of those within the U.S., which would result in ultimate chaos. With that said, the ultimate challenge that the United States faces is the actual testing and finding of the proper combative strategies. Cyber security and engineers have the task ahead of them of not conducting too many trial and errors, but instead devising solid methods to enhance the United States’ cyber strategies for the long- term (McConnell, 2010).

Future Implications/ Suggestions for Progressing the Combat of Cyber Attacks From Extremists

The online content that extremists display has been unlimited in what they do to organize, recruit, and execute their acts that they harmfully inflict on the United States. The internet plays a highly significant role in extremists’ activity and their combat is something that must be identified and attacked in return. While many remain skeptical about cyber attacks from extremists being a large issue , it is imperative that these issues be combated at a higher rate because without increased cyber security, everyone would be at risk due to the constant technological advancements that take place (Conway, 2016). Conway (2016) provided a layout of multiple suggestions for how cyber security can further be progressed to address the increasing occurrence of attacks. One specific suggestions was related to a highly significant area of interest that many, including the government, use on a daily basis: the enforcement of improving the capacity and range that cyber security specialists cover. Improving the range and capacity at which cyber security specialists monitor the web would increase the detectability of possible extremist or terror attack activities, which in turn would decrease the actual amount of attacks that occur if they can be detected at an earlier time (Conway, 2016). Another suggestion of Conway’s (2016) six suggestions for future improvement was related to paying increased attention to the gender as something that plays a role in violent extremist events that take place on the web. The author argued that gender is not widely focused upon, but it does in fact, play a significant part in what extremists participate in online. He provided an example of Al-Khansa, which was the first Jihai magazine that was primarily geared and created for women, saying that it has existed for over a decade with nearly a hundred thousand posts and shares, and yet still little attention has been paid to this site (Conway, 2016). In addition, Conway (2016) continued the emphasis on how modern information technology has been influential for extremist and terror activities, while continuously adversely affecting the United States in more than a few undetected occurrences.

It would not be complete if the researcher and writer of this paper did not make future suggestions on how the United States can combat extremist attacks through cyber activity. therefore , some suggestions that can be offered are as follows:

1) Hiring and Training of a larger amount of cyber security specialists. This is referring to the military and civilian side. The United States should urge companies based out of the companies and those who have partnerships when it comes to commerce through the country to heighten their security measures, especially with the U.S. being one of the most targeted countries in the world. Government officials should understand and take heed to the fact that so many countries and enemy groups (extremists in particular) aspire to inflict political, economic, and financial harm because of the many advancements the United States offers, so the country needs more trained professionals to protect and mitigate more.

2) The implementation of new strategies. This is important because if attacks are occurring at an ever- increasing rate that the U.S. is unable to keep up with, then another method or approach should be taken on along with the hiring and training of more cyber security specialists. New strategies just ay improve the identification of threats from extremists. For example, one new method could be examining and taking a constant log or note on attacks that have happened in the past, identifying any patterns that can be seen, which would increase the chances of identifying a more modern wave of extremist patterns and activities.

3) Bring aboard trustworthy foreign service interpreters from countries where extremists are heavily from. This will enable the United States government to better detect the occurrence of unusual activities online and know whether an extremist is in the process of carrying out or planning an attack. These foreigners should be heavily investigated and well- trained before they are entrusted with access to priority government files and data of course.

These are not all- encompassing suggestions for what can be done to improve the United States’ combatives of cyber security, but instead a short list of suggestions that the researcher feels will make the most impact when it comes to the United States government and success against cyber warfare since the country is failing to keep up with the increased occurrences of attacks.


In summation, this research paper has discussed the manner in which extremist or terror groups use technology versus how the United States uses technology, along with explaining it’s vitality and challenges to come. Authors’ recommendations for combating cyber threats and attacks were discussed, along with implications from the researcher as to what steps could also be taken in the future for the government to better prevent cyber attacks and keep up with the ever- increasing amount of threats to keep attacks at an all- time low. Once the United States solves the largest issue of implementing the proper strategies to combat extremist activities on the web, it does not imply that the same method and uses should gain comfort; instead, cyber security specialists should be constantly improving the method after correctly identifying patterns from that of extremists. Past attacks that have occurred toward the government decades ago should be studied, all the way up to the most recent attacks, which will help with the identification of patterns that extremists have. The outreach from the government to those companies based in the U.S. or providing e commerce services in the county is vital, so that the stressing of security measures can thoroughly be implements. The United States will continue to advance technologically, so for the sake of cyber security to protect the government’s top secret data, individual citizens, and businesses, the methods employed to protect and increase security should not be taken lightly, ut instead continuously improve also, since extremists are constantly attacking by using the country’s own technological advances against it for bettering of their groups, conveying messages, and carrying out attacks.


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Conway, M. (2016). Determining the role of the internet in violent extremism and terrorism: Six Suggestions for progressing research. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 40 (1), 77-98.

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Lynn, W. (2010). Defending a new domain: The Pentagon's cyberstrategy. Foreign Affairs, 89 (5), 97-108.

McConnell, M. (2010). Mike McConnell on how to win the cyber-war we’re losing. Washington Post, 28, B01.

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Xu, S., Zhu, K., & Gibbs, J. (2004). Global technology, local adoption: A cross‐country Investigation of internet adoption by companies in the United States and China. Electronic Markets, 14 (1), 13-24.



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Title: Cybersecurity. How Extremist Organizations Use Technology Internationally Versus How Governments Use Technology