ISSG Magazine – Terrorism

The following introduction was originally published in the BCS Information Security Specialist Group Magazine, Autumn 2005 issue:

Recent Events
The terrible events of 7th July, and fortunate failures of 21st July, exploiting vulnerabilities in our transport system to cause death and mayhem, remind us all that we may be subject to attack, even while going about our normal business.

Our assets are not only our population, which we must do our utmost to protect, but also our way of life, which is not only being threatened by the attacks against us, but may be undermined by a hasty or draconian response to terrorist attacks.

The threat is from ‘international terrorism’, which has both the capability and intent, has grown over the last two decades, and considers its actions justified, as payback, for many years of the ‘West’ interfering in the affairs of the ‘East’.

As well as trying to convince the public that they’re safe from the risk of another attack, governments must be more open and honest, and target the causes of terrorism, as well as its symptoms, as part of their risk management strategy.

Real War or Cyberwar?
The oft-quoted ‘cyberwar’ has, as yet, failed to materialise. Personally, I don’t expect a digital equivalent of Pearl Harbour or 9/11 for some time. For now, I expect major attacks to remain physical, which makes for good ‘terrorism by TV’.

An electronic attack is much less likely to terrorise the general population unless the attackers acquire some new expertise or knowledge, which could be harnessed to create widespread carnage in Critical National Infrastructure (CNI).

What is not at doubt is that the current breed of ‘international terrorists’ has learned how to use the Internet and media outlets effectively for communications, information distribution, propaganda and recruitment.

New Powers?
The UK, and its own ‘coalition of the willing’, is still pushing, through the EU, for sweeping data retention powers. A past attempt, at slipping it through with minimal discussion and review, has been declared illegal, but we persist.

The current powers and retention requirements seem to have been sufficient in recent attacks, both at home and abroad. Those that wish for greater powers should put forward convincing arguments as to why they should get them.

Coupled with other moves – to introduce ID cards, reduce burden of proof, have detention without trial, limit legal representation, present secret evidence, impose control orders, and broaden surveillance – we must avoid a ‘1984’ scenario.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” – Benjamin Franklin (attributed)

If we become a police state, which spies on our people as the norm, at the same time as ‘encouraging’ such states to become democratic and open, would we meet in the middle, or would they become free as we become repressed?

In this growing surveillance society quis custodiet ipso custodes?”