Lentis/Cyberterrorism and Cyberwarfare

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Cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare involve attacks against information stored on computers and networks with the intention of inflicting harm. With ever-increasing advancements being made in technological fields, acts of cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare are becoming more prevalent in our world today.


The Zimmermann TelegramEdit

Zimmermann Telegram

In January of 1917 during World War I, Britain intercepted and deciphered an encrypted telegram, now known as the Zimmermann Telegram, from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister of Mexico. The Zimmermann Telegram proposed a German-Mexican alliance against the United States, where Mexico would regain lost territory in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. [1]

Up until this point in World War I, the United States had remained fairly neutral. However, the American citizens were outraged when the telegram was portrayed in the press, causing the United States to declare war on Germany on April 6.

What is now known as cyberwarfare can be traced all the way back to 1917, when Britain intercepted and decoded this message. This can be applied to modern day security as the German government believed that the telegram was impossible to decode. The strength of an encryption relies upon the length of the key to protect valuable information. Military information is generally 56-64 bits and only lasts minutes to hours. The world learned that if there is motive, any encryption can be decoded whether that be a telegram or a computer program.

The Morris Worm: The first recognized wormEdit

In 1988, Robert Morris created the first self-replicating and self-propagating worm, affecting over 6,000 computers. It did not destroy files or data but clogged the computer's memory until it became unusable. As the internet was a fairly new invention,the law had to adjust to the potential social and criminal implications. Morris became the first person to be prosecuted and convicted under the computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Before this worm, most people were not concerned with internet security but after, software companies were more aware of flaws in their security and took measures to protect themselves.

The CreeperEdit

Creeper, the first known computer virus, was written in 1971 by Rob Thomas in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Programmers in the 1970's were no different than programmers today in their desire to test their systems and check their code, and that was the intent of Creeper. Once Creeper got into a computer, it produced a message onscreen: "I'm the Creeper. Catch me if you can!“ Later, the anti-virus program, Reaper, was written to catch Creeper. [2]

At the time, Creeper wasn't known as a "virus", since computer viruses hadn't existed before that point.

Modern CyberthreatsEdit


[O]ne of the great technical blockbusters in malware history.

Vanity Fair, April 2011

The Stuxnet virus is a computer worm found in 2009 in critical infrastructure software systems around the world. It is known as the most sophisticated computer malware to date. Its target was Iranian Uranium enrichment facilities, and Stuxnet reportedly did damage to two major nuclear facilities in Iran [3]. The United States and Israel are rumored to be responsible for the attack. There is no direct evidence, but diplomatic cables posted on WikiLeaks and other government correspondence support these claims [4]

Stuxnet attacked what are called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. SCADA systems are specialized software to control industrial infrastructure, including nuclear power plants, power grids, train switches, and gas pipelines. These systems are often outdated and not written with security in mind. Further, there is no economic incentive to replace them with more secure software. Doing so would require large costs, heavy planning, and little to no added benefit once completed [5].


In contrast with the acts of sabotage of Stuxnet, a malware-based cyber espionage known as GhostNet directed infected computers to download a Trojan known as Gh0stRAT that allow the attackers to gain real-time control of the system. Gh0st RAT was known to be controlled from commercial Internet access located on the island of Hainan, People’s Republic of China.

GhostNet was discovered in March 2009 and their targets primarily included the Dalai Lama in London, NYC, India, Southeast Asian countries, Germany and several others. While the activity is known to be based in China, the U.S. government could not firmly conclude the source of the attacks.


There are over 800 million active users on Facebook, 75% of whom are located outside the United States and 50% of whom log on to Facebook on any given day. [6] Since Facebook is free to join for anyone with an email account, it is a quick and accessible tool for cyber-terrorists. It has become common for governments and terrorist organizations to monitor Facebook for updates that contain valuable information. By piecing together information from multiple service-members' Facebook accounts, foreign entities are sometimes able to determine schedules, locations, and intended actions of military units. In August 2009, the Marine Corps placed a ban on the use of the unclassified portion of the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN) for social networking purposes. In March 2010, the United States Marine Corps released a memo which canceled the ban. According to the memo, Marines are allowed "limited personal use" of the MCEN but they must "strictly adhere to sound operational security measures." [7]


WikiLeaks is an organization that collects and disperses sensitive or controversial information from anonymous sources around the world. WikiLeaks has released documents revealing corporate, federal, and international secrets in the name of free speech. Spokesperson Julian Assange claims that "free speech is what regulates government and what regulates law." Assange further claims that law and government are derived from the flow of information and that this process is protected under national and international legislation.

WikiLeaks has become a very controversial organization in the last two years. Some social groups believe that WikiLeaks is simply exercising freedom of the press, while others believe they are disrupting national security. On his profile from TED.com, Julian Assange is called "...one of the world's most visible human-rights activists."[8] Julian Assange has stated several times that WikiLeaks will do everything in its power politically, legally, and technologically to protect its sources and that it will attempt to maximize the political impact of its leaked material. This claim has been challenged by many in popular media.

In one of its most controversial leaks, WikiLeaks posted video of a 2007 Apache Helicopter airstrike. The clip, entitled "Collateral Murder," was decrypted from US Army footage and showed a group of non-combatants, including two Reuters photographers, being fired upon by the Apache's 30-mm cannon. According to Assange, between 18 and 26 people were killed in the attack.[9] In an April 2010 interview with Stephen Colbert, Julian Assange was criticized for having edited the video, omitting certain details (including the fact that some of the men killed had been armed), and entitling the video "Collateral Murder." Colbert claimed that these discrepancies should redefine the leak as an editorial, since they "...emotional[ly] manipulate" the public's opinion.[10] Julian Assange countered by claiming that the order to engage was given before the US soldiers properly identified the group.

WikiLeaks has become a well-known entity around the world. The US government has banned its employees from viewing classified documents publicized through WikiLeaks, and it claims WikiLeaks has damaged national security.[11] Still, many groups celebrate and support WikiLeaks. In addition to TED.com, groups such as Anonymous have defended Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.[12]

WikiLeaks has become a major player in the world of cyber-terrorism. It has gained widespread support and equally widespread disdain from people in all social groups. Many view it as a menace, but many find it to be an essential tool for checking the power of corporate and government entities.

Other AttacksEdit

Malware by categories on March 16, 2011.

SCADA attacks are not the only type of cyberthreat today. There are numerous examples of attacks from hacker groups and individuals, all with varying motives. Some are to attack a particular company or corporation, some are to prove the weakness of systems, and some are even practical jokes.

Citibank had over 200,000 accounts compromised, with hackers stealing names, credit card numbers, and email addresses, simply by altering numbers in a URL [13]. Sony had over a million passwords stolen for its PlayStation Network accounts, exploiting a simple web vulnerability. Further, the hacker group responsible for the attack, LulzSec, claimed the passwords were stored unencrypted, or in cleartext form, considered an egregious misuse of handling of private information [14]. The same group, LulzSec, also hacked [[w:Public Broadcasting Service|PBS]’s website and posted a fake story indicating the late rapper Tupac Shakur was still alive. The group took offense to a PBS documentary about the leak of U.S. diplomatic cables posted on the WikiLeaks website [15].

Potential Danger in the FutureEdit

There are many cyberthreats, from ones against critical infrastructure to ones against government and corporate websites. SCADA attacks on critical infrastructure have the most potential for disaster in the future. For example, the United States has extensive missile defense capabilities. But a hacker could hijack our nuclear launch system and launch our own missiles against us, or even take control of a power grid and cause blackouts, chaos, and confusion. In 2007, researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory identified a vulnerability in the power grid. A video of the danger was leaked to CNN, and shows a large diesel generator blowing up in smoke, all from a cyberattack [16].

As seen above, many companies and software systems today do not take cybersecurity as a serious matter. Many considered the storing of cleartext passwords by Sony to be a violation of security principles and customer’s trust of their handling of private information. Many SCADA systems do not take security or hacking into account even at all. Siemens’ Simatic WinCC SCADA system used a default password “hard-coded” into the software, meaning it was not mutable by the software users. To add, it was posted online in product forums since 2008. The Stuxnet virus exploited a default password weakness to weaken Iran’s nuclear enrichment capabilities [17].

Response to Cyberterrorism/CyberwarfareEdit

International AgreementsEdit

Countries make agreements to not commit cyberespionage or attacks on one another. This stops the escalation.

An example: In September 2015, USA and China pledged to neither conduct nor support cyberattacks against one another, and opening a dialogue about protecting the cyberspace. The repercussions to breaking this promise are large economic sanctions.

Countries also state that they will use military force to counter cyberattacks.

Investing in CybersecurityEdit

Nations are investing resources to thwart cyberattacks, and educate employees and the public on how to protect themselves from hacks.

The Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) was created by President George Bush. It spans many organizations including the CIA and FBI. CNCI invests in educating more cybersecurity experts, as well as in security research. It also works to secure the nation's information by deploying intrusion detection and prevention systems.

Other agencies, such as ICS-CERT, work to secure targets of cyberattacks such as the nation's infrastructure

Corporations are reacting similarly. They ensure software is updated regularly to patch vulnerabilities. They limit access to employees and have harsher penalties for violating security protocols. Software companies employ security experts to ensure there are no backdoors or vulnerabilities in their systems.

Relevant Social GroupsEdit

Several relevant social groups need to be addressed regarding cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare.


Governments store top secret information in what is thought to be high security places. However, internet attacks are made almost daily. If the wrong person hacks the right information, governments could be in huge trouble. Safety and security is at stake here.


It’s becoming easier and easier for the enemy to find out where military troops are stationed. For example, a simple post on facebook from a soldier to his wife saying “We’ll be in Afghanistan tomorrow, then coming home” can give away huge amounts of information when pieced with other things that the enemy already knows. This puts our military in very dangerous situations.

Private CorporationsEdit

Private Corporations are extremely vulnerable to cyber attacks. For example, this past June, hackers acquired the personal information of about 360,000 of Citi's credit card holders. Citi notified customers of the breach and began issuing new credit cards to the affected customers. Citi said it has implemented “enhanced procedures” to prevent a recurrence of the breach, but didn’t elaborate.[18]

Ordinary CitizensEdit

Recently, lots of cyber attacks have been coming out of China. However, these hackers are not associated with the Chinese government or military. They're basically young, male, patriotic Chinese citizens, demonstrating their power and intelligence. Citizens can also be the victims of cyberwarfare, such as having an email account hacked.[19]


Hackers range from genius computer programmers to people who are actually employed by the government to obtain and decode highly classified information. Internet hackers are becoming more prevalent as advancements in technology are being made daily.


An appetite for instant gratification plus ever-expanding technology equals opportunity. Opportunity for good, harm, and everything in between. As advances in technology are being made daily, cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare are becoming increasingly more common in our world today. What our future holds in these regards? Only time will tell.


  1. The Zimmerman Telegram: Bringing America Closer to War. http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4938
  2. Staedter, T. (2011, March 16). First computer virus, creeper, was no bug. http://news.discovery.com/tech/first-computer-virus-creeper-was-no-bug-110316.html
  3. Zetter, Kim. (July 11, 2011). How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History. Wired. Retrieved From http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/07/how-digital-detectives-deciphered-stuxnet/all/1.
  4. Jamison, Jane. Israel, U.S. Behind Stuxnet Computer Virus Attack on Iran/Will Reactor “Melt-Down?” Right Wing News. Retrieved From http://rightwingnews.com/israel/israel-u-s-behind-stuxnet-computer-virus-attack-on-iran-will-reactor-melt-down/.
  5. Finkle, Jim. UPDATE 3-U.S. probes cyber attack on water system. Reuters. Retrieved From http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/19/cybersecurity-attack-idUSN1E7AH1QU20111119.
  6. Facebook Statistics. Retrieved December 4, 2011, from Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics
  7. Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-Based Capabilities. Retrieved December 4, 2011, from Marines.mil: http://www.marines.mil/news/messages/Pages/MARADMIN181-10.aspx
  8. TED Conferences LLC. (2010, July). Julian Assange: Whistleblower. Retrieved December 4, 2011, from TED Ideas Worth Spreading: http://www.ted.com/speakers/julian_assange.html
  9. Assange, J. (2010, July). Why the World Needs WikiLeaks. (C. Anderson, Interviewer). Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/julian_assange_why_the_world_needs_wikileaks.html.
  10. Assange, J. (2010, April 12). (S. Colbert, Interviewer). Retrieved from http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/270712/april-12-2010/julian-assange.
  11. TPM Media LLC. (2010, December). TPM Document Collection. Retrieved December 4, 2011, from TPM: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/documents/2010/12/ombs-email-to-government-agencies-about-wikileaks-access.php?page=1
  12. "BBC News - Police arrest 'hackers' in US, UK, Netherlands". Bbc.co.uk. 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
  13. Wilson, Dean. Citibank was hacked by altering URLs. The Inquirer. Retrieved From http://consumerist.com/2011/06/how-hackers-stole-200000-citi-accounts-by-exploiting-basic-browser-vulnerability.html.
  14. Ragan, Steve. LulzSec: Sony was asking for it – millions of records compromised (Update 2). The Tech Herald. Retrieved From http://www.thetechherald.com/articles/LulzSec-Sony-was-asking-for-it-millions-of-records-compromised-(Update-2).
  15. Kanalley, Craig. PBS Hacked, Claims ‘Tupac Alive’ in New Zealand. The Huffington Post. Retrieved From http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/30/pbs-hacked-tupac-alive_n_868673.html.
  16. Finkle, Jim. UPDATE 3-U.S. probes cyber attack on water system. Reuters. Retrieved From http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/19/cybersecurity-attack-idUSN1E7AH1QU20111119.
  17. Zetter, Kim. SCADA System’s Hard-Coded Password Circulated Online for Years. Wired. Retrieved From http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/07/siemens-scada/.
  18. Rudy, M. (2011, June 21). Citi: Over 360,000 credit card accounts hacked, more than initially reported. http://www.cardratings.com/citi-over-360000-credit-card-accounts-hacked-more-than-initially-reported.html
  19. Jasper, W. (2011, April 15). china accelerates cyber attacks, espionage. http://thenewamerican.com/world-mainmenu-26/asia-mainmenu-33/7135--china-accelerates-cyber-attacks-espionage

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