Power, politics, terror and the cyberworld

Power, politics, terror and the cyberworld
Power, politics, terror and the cyberworld 

By Manoj Kewalramani 

While the James Bond franchise has over the years provided an 
interesting peek at how the technological and/or information revolution 
is changing global politics and warfare, the ongoing wars in Iraq and 
Afghanistan drive home that fact like never before.

The changes in information and communication technology with the advent 
of cyberspace were all too well known before the war on terror even 
officially began.

However, ever since September 11, 2001, the visible impact of these 
changes on the rules of engagement in international affairs has been 
nothing less than shocking and awe-inspiring.

The most fundamental shift that has occurred has been the overhaul that 
the conventional concept of power - economic, military, territorial and 
political - is undergoing.

Power, in fact, as many analysts tend to believe is not only being 
re-characterized but also redistributed in a way that is deconstructing 
the international structure and eroding the primacy of nation-states in 
global affairs.

The ease of access and control over means of communication and 
information dissemination have created a plug in, log on generation, 
whereby diverse actors - individuals and groups - can reshape opinions 
and values in a way that previously was the monopoly of nation-states.

Moreover, while the growing dependence of our political, financial, 
military and societal structures and systems on technology permits 
greater efficiency in governance, it also provides opportunities for 
those with malicious intent to seize on vulnerabilities.

In fact, a 2005 US PITAC report explicitly states that the American IT 
infrastructure is extremely vulnerable to a terrorist or criminal 

Cyberspace is thus the newest frontier in the wars waged by this and 
future generations, wherein critical information and intelligence 
gathering, inflicting tangible damage to and/or crippling systems and 
operations and influencing public opinion will be key to success.

Combat strategies

In recent times, Web-defacement, whereby the contents of a website are 
accessed, altered and/or deleted, and Hactivism, politically motivated 
attacks on publicly accessible webpages or email servers, along with 
viruses have probably been the most common forms of cyberattacks.

For instance, during the NATO campaign in the erstwhile Yugoslavia, 
Russian and other individuals backing the Serbs attacked the websites of 
NATO nations by attempting hacking and sending virus-infected mails to 
undermine the military effort.

Another prominent example is the cyberwar between pro-Indian and 
pro-Pakistani hackers.

In 2003, it was widely reported that pro-Pakistani hackers - the most 
active of which was a group name G-Force - had hacked and defaced nearly 
500 Indian sites, including news websites and those belonging to 
government bodies.

In response, a group of pro-Indian hackers had launched a "cyber 
revenge" by spreading the Yaha worm aimed Distributed Denial of Service 
attacks (DDoS).

However, each of these cases is often understood as individuals or 
groups acting of their own accord.

The issue of governmental sanction and involvement officially almost 
always remains murky; despite this, it is noted that such cyberattacks 
tend to rise in frequency in times of heightenend political tensions 
between the parties involved.

For instance, the second Palestinian intifada also took shape in the 
form of what reports defined as the "Inter-fada," as pro-Israeli and 
pro-Palestinan hackers hit out at each other's commercial, government 
and personal websites and exchanged fiery salvos in chatrooms.

While such activities may tantamount to vandalism, undermining the 
enemy's confidence and even denying access to effective information and 
services, it is often argued that the tangible threat posed by them is 
rather limited.

Nevertheless, the November 2004 case of pro-Chinese hackers called Titan 
Rain stealing US military secrets, including aviation specifications and 
flight-planning software, did raise alarms.

Yet, the most that this implies is espionage oneupsmanship and doesn't 
essentally justify the horrorific imagery that the term "cyberattack" is 
meant to conjure up.

Terrorism in the digital age

The real threat of the digital age, analysts argue, is posed by the use 
of cyberspace by terrorist organisations.

To begin with, as a 2004 USIP report argues, there have been no real 
instances of cyberterrorism. However, while this conclusion may be 
comforting on the surface, it masks the actual and potential utility of 
cyberspace for terrorist organisations.

Cyberspace is littered with innumerable websites of terror organizations 
and its supporters.

The Internet has, in fact, enabled the dangerous structural 
transformation of terrorist groups from a vertical hierarchy to disperse 
and decentralized sub-groups or individuals that are inter-connected and 
coordinating with each other.

Among the primary aims of terror groups using the Internet is propaganda 
and psychological warfare, for instance, the messages of Osama bin Laden 
and other Al-Qaida leaders being posted on the Internet and terror 
groups attempting to demoralize enemy societies by posting images and 
videos of executions and through threats of impending attacks.

Besides creating an atmosphere of fear, another interesting aspect of 
this propaganda war in cyberspace is the attempts by terror groups to 
influence public opinion by de-legitimizing the enemy and portraying 
their struggle as one against oppression.

Also, a large number of such groups tend to use the online space for 
critical activities such as intelligence gathering, fundraising, 
recruiting, planning attacks, communicating with dormant cells, training 
and sharing information on planning strategies, bomb-making, 
indoctrination etc.

In fact, the Internet and the anonymity and privacy it offers was 
instrumental in planning and executing the September 11, 2001, attacks, 
and groups like al-Qaida and Hezbollah have hailed the utility of 
encrypted messages in assisting them in their cause.

Beyond this lies the alarming threat of compound attacks, i.e., 
cyberattacks that supplement a physical attack, either by states or by 
terror groups.

For instance, imagine a large-scale or even an isolated physical attack, 
which is then backed by a cyberattack that cripples the critical 
infrastructure such as transportation, water or even emergency services.

Battling cyberterror

Examined from this perspective, the influence and impact of 
cyberterrorism cannot be ignored and governments and international 
institutions need to develop viable defensive and offensive mechanisms 
to deal with this threat.

Effective cyber security requires that governments identify areas of 
critical significance and devote funding and other resources for 
research purposes aimed at fortifying their systems against any attack.

Moreover, considering that in most countries a number of services and 
computer networks are under private management, effective public-private 
partnership is a must.

Also, intelligence gathering, monitoring of cyberspace and the 
activities of terror groups and formulating effective legal instruments 
and multilateral agreements to regulate cyberspace are key to any 
offensive strategy.

But, in doing so, it is imperative that governments consistently ensure 
that the democratic benefits that the Internet revolution has offered 
are not undermined.

Primacy of the state

In the final analysis, however, the real challenge that the information 
revolution poses to international affairs is the manner in which it is 
impacting the power and role of the state.

While the change that was initiated by the advent of the Internet has 
required for states to adapt, the Westphalian structure seems more than 
capable to adjust and flourish.

In fact, as highlighted in a number of examples above, states have 
identified the changing conceptualization of power and begun to harness 
the abilities of the empowered non-state actors to further their 

In effect, information and technology power is being used to further 
strengthen the conventional might of the state; clearly cyberpolitik is 
merely a novel tool in the very, very old and enduring game of 

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