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Use of the Internet by Foreign Terrorist Organizations

Use of the Internet by Foreign Terrorist Organizations


Terrorism has been in the world for a long time now. However, the nature of their operations tremendously changed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with advancement in technology. Advancements in communication and transportation are notable changes that have contributed to globalization in this era. Foreign terrorist organizations have taken advantage of the benefits of globalization to expand their scope of operation and reach targets across national borders. Internet is an ongoing evolvement in technology that not only facilitates communication but logistics. It involves a global interconnection of network systems that use internet protocol suite to transmit data worldwide via various types of computer devices (IP Location, n.d). Terrorists use the internet for various purposes and in various ways. To fight terrorism, anti-terrorism and counterterrorism practitioners must familiarize themselves with the manner in which transnational terrorists use the internet and for what purposes they use it for.


Internet has delivered multiple advantages across various operational spheres in the globe. It has become a great asset for terrorist organizations and more so foreign ones. It has proven to be an ever so dynamic means of communication for the organizations reaching a multitude of the desired audience worldwide. Development and advancement of increasingly sophisticated technologies have created various relatively efficient and effective avenues for terrorists to use in their operations. Although it has played to their disadvantage for a few reasons, the internet has facilitated many operations that would not have been possible without it. With the internet, terrorists are able to operate anonymously and remotely crossing multiple national borders unregulated and undetected.

Categories of Ways Terrorists Use the Internet

There are various ways through which foreign terrorist organizations use the internet. Although there is no evidence, experts in the field speculate that there are various ways through which terrorist organizations use the internet that is unknown to us. Nevertheless, there are a few ways that we know of such as dissemination of propaganda, training, financing, planning, and cyber-attacks. However, these categories sometimes overlap. It is therefore important to have a deep understanding of each.


Dissemination of propaganda is one of the primary ways through which terrorists use the internet. Although it can take various forms, propaganda involves the dissemination of true, hearsay or false information to promote a particular cause or achieve a particular objective. Propaganda can be used for both positive and negative purposes. And with the right to freedom of expression, it is not prohibited. When used effectively, propaganda can be an effective tool to win the heart and mind of people. It can be categorized according to the source of information where it falls under “white propaganda” which is a propaganda whose target is specific and the source is open an acknowledged; “black propaganda” where the information’s source is unknown often because it is fabricated or based on a lies; “gray propaganda” whose source of information is not entirely specified and the message in it is not entirely false or entirely true (Lieberman, 2017).  International Human Rights Literature also categorizes prohibited propaganda into “defamatory propaganda which involves communications intended to revile, or insult a foreign state so as to disrupt peaceful relations between states; “subversive propaganda” which is intended to overthrow a political leader and or the political order of a state; and “incitement to aggressive war or genocides” which implants a desire to end unlawful violence in the minds of the targeted population.

Terrorist organizations use the internet to promote propaganda intended to cause violence. The platforms increase the volume of audience that might be affected by the message. Propaganda via the internet also diminishes dependence on traditional means of communication such as news which can be filtered and affect the achievement of desired outcomes. Videos games or other violent videos are also made by the transnational terrorist organizations and disseminated via the internet to promote virtual terrorism among the masses.  The ever-growing range of internet platforms and search engines make it relatively efficient and effective to disseminate the propaganda to targeted audience unregulated. Transnational terrorist organizations have also used the internet to reach their potential or actual supporters. The propaganda here is designed to recruit, radicalize, and incite the target population through messages that promote their pride, commitment and accomplishments in extremist goals. To the financing states or organization, terrorists use the internet to display their effectiveness in executing their operations. They also use the platforms to undermine and challenge the society’s collective values and beliefs on critical issues.


The internet is increasingly becoming a training ground for terrorists today.  There is a wide and ever-growing range of media with platforms that support the dissemination of training resources in video and audio clips and practical manuals. The trainees can also access step by step instructions on how to go about various terrorists’ activities such as making explosives, planning and executing a terrorist activity, and joining the transnational terrorist organization regardless of their location in the globe. This is facilitated by the availability of the guides in multiple languages and in various multimedia formats. The virtual training camps are also used to share important knowledge critical for committing a terrorist act. Inspire is a good example of an online magazine used by Al-Qaida to help Muslims and interested persons for jihad at their own convenience (Ki-moon, 2012). The interactive nature enhanced by such online platforms has enabled transnational terrorist organizations to train a wide range of individuals all over the world. The networks created through these platforms enhance a sense of community and belonging among supporters, terrorists and potential terrorists of multiple diversities.


There are various ways through which foreign terrorist organizations use the internet to finance their operations. The organizations may use targeted communication, group chats, or websites to solicit directly with their supporters and request for donations. Online payment facilities also come in handy. The facilities are also sometimes exploited to obtain money from fraudulent means such as intellectual property crimes, auction fraud, wire fraud, identity theft, and theft of credit cards among others. Funds raised for such seemingly legit purposes as charities could also be diverted and used to finance terrorist operations through the internet (Combating Terrorism Center, 2017). The organizations from corporations which they disguise as philanthropic and use them to solicit for donations using online platforms.


There is a general consensus among many practitioners in the criminal justice that most terrorism activities prosecuted used internet technologies. Thorough communications between and within extremists on how a terrorist operation is to be executed are often carried out via the internet across national borders. Various internet platforms are also used to identify a potential target of attack and determine the most effective and efficient way to achieve a desired goal. Transnational terrorist organizations use secret communications such as the use of draft messages which allows for minimal electronic traces whilst being accessible from multiple internet terminals across the globe with the use of a password. Other more sophisticated internet technologies that enhance anonymity of origin, recipient and content of the message communicated such as encrypting tools and anonymizing software are often used to reach a wid. Steganography is a way of hiding messages in images that can also be used to enhance obscurity. Essential logistic information on terrains and buildings, maps and satellite imageries can also be obtained from the internet through such platforms as real-time closed circuits television footage and such applications as Google Earth.


Terrorist organizations have taken advantage of the internet to carry out cyber-attacks. Terrorist organizations deliberately exploit computer networks to disrupt their normal functioning. Computer systems, servers and significant infrastructures are illegally accessed to retrieve important information or impair them. However, few of these instances are publicized to avoid causing security threats to the technological infrastructures that would result from making them public (Brunst, 2010). Nevertheless, internet provides an effective platform to execute psychological warfare that should not be ignored. It is therefore imperative for practitioners to familiarize themselves with the various internet vulnerabilities that terrorist organizations could exploit to achieve their goals.


Hacking involves unauthorized access of a computer or network system often to obtain data illegally or sabotage it. Hacking can be done through technical means or with human help. Technical access includes the use of a computer program with software flaws that are identified to enhance access to a private system. These kinds of exploits are available when the system administrator is unable to keep the computer updated (Denning, 2001). However, some exploits are publicly known and sometimes by even the software manufacturer. These exploits are illegally acquired through the black market and can facilitate access even when the system administrator has successfully installed and updated all security fixes in the system as provided by the software company that developed the computer. Access with human help can be achieved by deceiving or manipulating the user to provide a password or protected and confidential information. The terrorists can also infiltrate on the target’s workforce or people who are close to them to access the information.

There are three capabilities needed for successful terrorists’ attacks according to the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Irregular Warfare (Nelson et al., 1999 from Brunst, 2010). Simple-unstructured hacks involve the basic access of an individual system using hacking tools created by someone else. Little target analysis or learning capability is available from the organization. In advanced-structured hacks, a more sophisticated attack against multiple computers and network system is conducted and hacking tools are created or modified. The organization has elementally target analyses that can facilitate sequential attacks for the transnational terrorist organization from a single location. Learning abilities enhanced by command and control enable assimilation of new technologies and training of personnel on the art. Complex-coordinated hacks are mass disruptive. They involve analysis of the systems’ vulnerabilities, penetration of integrated and heterogeneous defenses and creation of attack tools. This results in obtaining high confidence and strong target analysis. The command and control structure is also very strong facilitating multiple and simultaneous attacks from various locations across the globe. The learning capacities are also strong.

Data Alteration

After hacking a system, the perpetrator decides on what to do with the information. However, deleting the data is a rare option since the administrator wo………….

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