Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Cyber Enemy and How It Uses the Internet


The Cyber Enemy and How It Uses the Internet

June 05, 2013

By: MacDonnell Ulsch

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, another case overshadowed by the Boston attack, was reported in the press. It is the case of two Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists in Canada. They stand accused by the government of “conspiring to murder persons unknown … in association with a terrorist group” by plotting to attack a passenger train operating between Toronto and New York City.

This brings to mind the evolving profile of technology-literate terrorists and criminals who use the Internet. Most cyber-attackers, including nation-states, do not want to destroy the Internet -- it’s too valuable. They simply want to profit from it. To those who steal intellectual property and trade secrets, engage in extortion and other crimes associated with information compromise, the Internet is mission-critical.

These terrorists and criminals are not the terrorists and criminals we used to know. They are not the embodiment of the 9/11 attackers. The profile of the post-9/11 terrorist is evolving. Some are professionals, working in many industries and in many countries. They are pursuing graduate degrees. They appear to be part of the fabric of the workplace. But they are not.

Chiheb Esseghaier, one of the Canadian terrorists, clearly led two lives. Pursuing his doctorate in Canada in the field of optical and electrochemical biosensors, he published work on methods of detecting prostate cancer and HIV, among other diseases. Science was the way he earned a paycheck. But Jihad seems to be how he defined his life’s mission.

As described in my book, THREAT! Managing Risk in a Hostile World, Kafeel Ahmed, one of the terrorists behind the June 30, 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack, also led a double life. He was pursuing a doctorate in fluid dynamics and worked beneath the radar as an aerospace engineer at an overseas company under contract with Boeing Aerospace and Airbus Industries.

But Ahmed is best known for loading his Jeep Cherokee with extra tanks of gasoline and driving it, along with accomplice Bilal Abdullah, an emergency room physician, into the security bollards at the entrance of Glasgow International Airport. Traveling at 30 mph, the Jeep detonated on impact. The security barriers prevented vehicle penetration into the interior of the airport, and only Ahmed was killed in the attack.

Abdullah was later found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and received a prison sentence of 32 years.

The new generation of terrorists, organized crime syndicates and others have grown up with technology. They are educated. They are professionals working in industry. And they are Internet savvy. They use laptops. Mobile devices are indispensable. They are inveterate users of Facebook. They communicate through LinkedIn. But they also hack into web sites, steal intellectual property and trade secrets, commit identity theft, engage in fraud, blackmail and extortion and other criminal actions. Just as the rest of the world has grown smaller and flat, so has the landscape associated with jihad, information-related crimes and social protests.

There is one clear differentiation between those on the dark side and the rest of the cyber community. They tend to be heavy users of encryption, realizing the importance to protect communications and information integrity.

MacDonnell Ulsch is CEO and Chief Analyst of ZeroPoint Risk Research LLC in Boston and the author of, THREAT! Managing Risk in a Hostile World.


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