The term cyber terrorism sounds menacing. However, many people do not have a good understanding of what cyber terrorism even is and how it differs from other forms of terrorism. The history of terrorism comprises ways to scare and harm people, and cyber terrorism is the newest form. The causes of terrorism are incomprehensible to most of the world, but the impact of terrorism is very real. Gathering information about terrorism is a good way to prepare yourself in the event of an emergency.

What Is Cyber Terrorism?

One of the reasons that cyber terrorism is hard to define, is because there are many terms that are used interchangeably in reference to cyber terrorism. Terms like cyber war, cyber crime, information war, electronic terrorism, and hacktivism have been in circulation for some time. All of these terms refer to the same types of cyber activity. The intent of this article is to help people better understand exactly what cyber terrorism is and how it differs from other, less serious forms of cyber harassment. When individuals understand what cyber terrorism is, they can be better informed about ways that cyber terrorists wish to use Internet capabilities and individual private information in order to enact crimes.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation defines cyber terrorism as any, “premeditated, politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs, and data which result in violence against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” Many people wonder how cyber terrorism differs from Internet hacking. The difference between the two types of crimes lies in the outcome. Internet hacking or the generation of computer viruses, for the most part, has the objective of denying a person, company, or large groups of people service. There is also often the objective of stealing information from individual people or individual companies.

Cyber terrorism, however, has the sole objective of causing some kind of violent reaction or devastating financial harm to the United States. Possible targets for a cyber terrorism attack would be the banking industry, military installations, power plants, and traffic control centers. When the infrastructure of these institutions is disruptive, or in a worst-case scenario, destroyed, then the public at large would be thrown into a state of chaos with possible violent outcomes.

Why Is Cyber Terrorism Such a Threat?

You may wonder if these types of activities could have a warfare-like effect on an entire country. The answer to that lies in our reliance on our technology. As individuals, we rely heavily on technology in our daily lives. Many individuals have electronic deposits on their paychecks. Should banking systems come under attack and their electronic abilities come to a halt, millions of people would be without their money. Many individuals also have technology-related jobs. Should there be a mass outage of Internet service providers, millions of people would be out of work, or unable to access work. They would be without any means of generating income in order to buy the most basic needs. Our power companies are run on digital grids. If those grids go out, power goes out. Many people rely on electricity as their only means of heat. The spiral effect of losing these types of services would send our country into a complete state of emergency.

History of Cyber Terrorism

Although the terminology “cyber terrorism” seems fairly new to many people, the phrase has actually been around since the 1980s when the Internet was still in its infancy. Even then, far-sighted Internet engineers could see how the Internet could be misused by criminals. What could not completely be foreseen, was how desperately dependent the entire country would be upon their technology. This dependence makes cyber terrorism a very simple criminal task. Already cyber terror attacks have taken place which has caused intense emotional and financial reactions. For example earlier this year the Twitter account of The Associated Press was hacked and a message was sent that informed them that the White House had been bombed and that the president was injured. Within minutes the stock market fell by 143 points! This is a small example of how very quickly and powerfully cyber terrorism can work its black magic. Many people are tagging cyber terrorism as the new language of war.

Just as there are different categories of terrorism, there are also different types of cyber terrorism. Some cyber terror attacks focus mainly on information and stealing that information. There are many important government and military sites that digitally warehouse information. This information in the wrong hands could pose a serious threat to the safety of our country. Another form of cyber terrorism is financial. Because so much of our economy is digital and so much money is passed through digital means today, stealing becomes much easier for a cyber-terrorist who knows how to access that money. Another form of cyber terrorism attacks on our country’s infrastructure. This includes attacks on the systems that control our water systems, traffic control on the ground and in the air, and power grids. Attacks on these systems could throw the entire country into panic within a matter of minutes.

Social media can also be used to spread mass hysteria within seconds. Terrorists masquerading as legitimate news sources can quickly spread erroneous information to billions of people with one simple message. When large groups of people are quickly thrown into fearful situations violence, looting and rioting can result.

What Can Be Done with Cyberterrorism?

The U.S. government recognizes the very real threats that cyber terrorism has presented to the American people. Much time and effort have gone into safeguarding our sensitive information systems with anti-terrorism measures so that cyber terrorists would have a hard time penetrating them. Individuals themselves can take a few steps to be ready in case of an emergency brought on by a cyber attack.

The website offers a wide range of information that can help individuals get prepared in the event of different kinds of emergencies. Some of these emergencies include technological emergencies like those that could be caused by cyber terrorists. Some of the steps that families can take to help protect themselves in the event of an emergency are to create an emergency box. An emergency box is a large plastic crate filled with non-perishable food, water, flashlights, batteries, blankets, can openers, and other items you might find helpful during an emergency. This is a very basic type of step that could assist you early on during an emergency.

During an emergency, such as those that could be brought on by a cyber terrorism attack, people generally panic in the first few hours. However, if you have an emergency plan in place, and have some supplies on hand that could help you for a few hours or a few days, you will feel much more confident while you figure out what the next step should be to get you and your family safely through the emergency.

Another step that individuals can take is to keep their own personal information securely over the Internet. Never open emails or links from sources you are not familiar with. Simple viruses could turn into serious cyber attacks. It is also a good idea to keep any banking or money transactions to a minimum online. Financial information is particularly sensitive and carries with it many opportunities for cyber terrorists to access crucial financial systems. Chances are that a serious cyber terrorism attack will begin with some type of virus that will spread quickly through the mobile devices of regular critics first.

It is also wise to have some of your savings and finances in easily accessible cash form. In the event that financial institutions are ever affected by a cyber terrorism attack, you and your family will have some means of cash on hand for purchases until the crisis is resolved.

Most people associate terrorism and the Internet with attacks on computers and systems, whether to disrupt government, business, or personal computers in order to steal information, disable or alter usage, or plant viruses. There is another association with Internet terrorism, to cause fear or harassing other people or businesses. In other words: online bullying. Businesses have been shut down because someone launched a campaign online that maligns the business or its owners. Internet terrorism also induces fear and anxiety in people, also referred to as cyberbullying, which happens usually on social networks, online gaming sites, and chat rooms or through mobile phones (texting). It happens day and night and follows the victim everywhere they have access to the Internet or a phone signal, making them feel it is nowhere safe from the attacks.

What Is Internet Terrorism?

Terror on the Internet can be from someone known or someone using a false identity, making Internet terrorism easier to do without getting caught. The perpetrators spread rumours or make up stories about the victim, post pictures or videos (real or altered), inspire others to bully, or even outright threaten physical harm to the other person, their family members, or pets. They might make demands of the victim for explicit photographs, or do some dare with the enticement that it will stop, or set up accounts pretending to be the victim just to cause problems for them. This often happens to children.

Internet Bullying Statistics

‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,’ used to be what kids were told to tell bullies who verbally taunted them. These days that has been proven to be untrue. Words do hurt. Harsh words can destroy someone’s self-esteem to a point that they either contemplate or attempt suicide. They withdraw from friends and social activities they had once enjoyed. With the rise of social media and the availability of cellular devices (phones, tablet computers, etc.) it is easier than ever for someone to be bullied without even being face to face with their abuser. Text messages can be mass-mailed, with and without photographs. Photographs and videos are posted online for all to see, often without the subject even knowing they were taken.

Worldwide youths were found to frequent Facebook (the most usage), Instagram, Youtube, Twitter,, Tumblr, and a small percentage used MySpace. Bullying was experienced across all different venues.

A survey conducted by Slater and Gordon, an international law firm in Australia, and the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that over half of children and youth in the UK now believe bullying on the Internet is just a part of life. It also found that parents (40%) do not know how to respond to the threat or how to set up protection on computers and cell phones for their children.

According to, operators of ChildLine, a counselling service for children and adolescents, there has been an 87 percent increase in reports of online bullying in 2012 and 2013. They report that online bullying affects a higher age group, children aged 12-18. They were contacted by 4,500 young people for advice on how to deal with cyberbullying. Children are afraid to report incidents of Internet terrorism because they fear it will make the problem worse, or nothing will be done.

Ditch the Label ran a worldwide survey taken from a sample of 10,800 young people aged 13 to 22 from the UK, USA, Australia, and a small number from other countries, and also from their partnership with Habbo Hotel, a community for teens, as well as from their own online support centre which has 30,000 hits weekly. They found that seven out of ten teens are victims of Internet terrorism, 37 percent on a highly frequent basis, and 20 percent experience severe bullying on a daily basis. They found that on the social networking site Facebook, teens were twice as likely to be bullied, followed by Twitter and then Ask.FM. This affected the self-esteem and social lives of 69 percent of the participants. They also found that males and females are equally likely to be victims of online terrorism.

It might surprise parents to know that in one poll, thirty percent of teens admitted to bullying classmates and peers, but fifty-seven percent of the time, when an adult intervened, the bullying stopped in a matter of seconds. Parents matter.

Advice for Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers

Parents often feel the need to give their children their privacy or their space to show they trust them to be responsible. While this is noble, with the prevalence of cyberbullying it is better to err on the side of caution.

  • Maintain current passwords to your child’s social networking sites, chatrooms, email, texting, etc. You may never feel the need to use them, but if your child begins to change their personality and it worries you, check those sites to see if they are being bullied or threatened. They may not want to tell parents about the bullying for fear it will get worse.
  • Talk to your child about what is bothering them and intervene if necessary. A parent can sometimes get more results, especially if the child is younger, than the child if the bully is from their school, or they need help contacting the right authorities (such as site administrators, the telephone carrier, or police.)
  • Offer support and suggestions to your child on handling the bullying. Once upon a time, if a child responded to a bully by giving as good as they got, in some cases with a physical altercation, the bullying stopped. This is not the case with cyberbullying. They gain confidence when the victim replies with similar remarks or threats online.
  • Check the social networking sites they frequent to make sure someone hasn’t created an account assuming the child’s identity to create problems for your child. Also, make sure it isn’t someone who actually has the same name. You’ll be able to tell by their biographical answers such as school and neighbourhood or friends. Their friends may not realize it isn’t actually them either.

What a Victim Can Do

  • Ask your parents for help. They can get things done that you may not be able to as a minor.
  • Do not engage with or respond to the bully.
  • Make one request and keep it simple with no use of capital letters or swear words. “Do not contact me again,” and keep a record of when you made the request.
  • If the bully persists, print out their messages and annotate, if necessary, the dates, whether it is on a site such as Facebook or Twitter, or a text or instant message.
  • If they make a threat to physically harm you, your family, or pets, or damage property, contact the police immediately or have your parents file a report. The police have to check on the threat and it sends a message to the other person that the behaviour will not be tolerated.
  • Block the person from contacting you on the social network sites, usually in the privacy settings. Also, block their number from calling yours. Be aware that they can call or text from a different device. Let unfamiliar or blocked numbers go to voicemail and do not erase any messages or texts. You may have to play them or show them to the police if necessary. Facebook has a zero-tolerance policy regarding cyberbullying. If you report them to Facebook they will be blocked from using the site.
  • If you can get their IP address from emails and text, contact their provider with the information and let them know what is going on. They can take steps to block them for you. You may have to contact your own carrier to get the IP address.