Terrorists, technology and fighting back

We investigate how extremists are using technology in their attempts to spread terror and threaten businesses.

Obviously IT PRO couldn't speak to anyone directly involved in an extremist group, but who better to talk to about how adept such people are with technology than F-Secure's Mikko Hypponen, an IT security pro who has worked with law enforcement in the past.

First off, terrorists employ the same technologies most people use on a daily basis, from email to web forums, Hyponnen said.

"The stereotype of a Taliban terrorist riding on a camel completely ignorant of modern technology doesn't really hold. That's not what we're talking about," he continued.

"These are educated people who are capable of using the internet for communication."

Indeed, a report from Wired doing the rounds two years ago suggested that US intelligence was concerned by terrorist use of Twitter.

A supposed army intelligence report looked into ways terrorists could use technologies including the micro-blogging service, GPS and photo swapping sites. With GPS, the document warned the technology could be used for "marksmanship, border crossings, and in concealment of supplies."

In a somewhat eerie premonition of what was to come, the document listed a number of scenarios, one of which included a mobile phone being used as an explosive device.

As technology continues to progress at a rapid rate, so will extremists' use of it. This something we all need to be aware of as both consumers and business users. And companies need to be particularly mindful so they have the necessary protection measures and policies in place.

"Especially in the year of Stuxnet, this is something that worries us," Hyponnen said.

"Creating Stuxnet from scratch is way beyond the resources and skills of any terror group at the moment, but the binary is available and it can be modified. It's much easier to modify Stuxnet than it is to build it from scratch."

The likelihood is, Stuxnet copycats will rear their ugly heads soon enough, both from nation states and terror groups, according to Hyponnen.

If terrorists manage to get their hands on technology as sophisticated as Stuxnet, there is reason for their enemies to be anxious, at the very least.

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