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The Islamic State exploiting cyber-terrorism

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It has been assumed that the currents of global politics consist of state-to-state relations. But such a clustered definition of world politics as merely the interactions of states has been challenged in the post-Cold War period. The concept of territoriality and the defining feature of the ‘1648 state’ has been steadily diminishing with the rise of non-state (non-territorial) actors. The phenomenal growth in technology for both military and civilian applications has provided more brokering power to the violent-non-state-actors like Islamic State (IS). Cyber terrorism and radicalization of cyberspace have also emerged as a new phenomenon both in global and regional levels.

Cyber-attacks possess great potential to negatively impact the global economy. The estimates on the cost of such attacks range from approximately $400 billion in 2014 to more than $3 trillion by 2020. The emergence of Stuxnet in 2010, a highly specialized malware payload that was designed as a cyber-weapon, laid out the debate on national security in a network world. But the entire gamut of discourse has taken a new momentum since the global surveillance disclosures in 2013 by Edward Snowden. On the other hand, the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015 showcase a new twist in the global cyber security debate.

IS’s cyber tactics

The Paris attacks have underlined IS’ clear goals, high motivation, sophisticated capabilities and financing to carry out a campaign to create an Islamic caliphate. The IS recruitment strategy has been implementing a distinct online recruitment strategy – which follows targets from their introduction to the organization’s message, through a careful pruning of their social networks, before culminating in a call to action. The strategy relies on scores of users who maintain a high level of availability online allowing them to lavish attention on potential recruits, and who provide a drumbeat of incitement to action, such as social media activism, migration to IS territories, or the commission of terrorist attacks.

A study of Islamic State Twitter use in early 2015 found at least 46,000 Twitter accounts that supported the organization that were in use in and around October 2014. The growing sophistication of cyber-offenders as evident by their calculated tricks served to give the impression that cyber-attacks are becoming more frequent, organized, highly costly and extremely dangerous. They use social media to spread and amplify their message, employing techniques associated with Shoreditch advertising types – organizing campaigns on Twitter to generate traffic, “hijacking” other Twitter hashtags such as the FIFA World Cup which was then used to tweet Islamist propaganda.

The IS’ online propaganda is to gain large number of supporters all over the world. The media wing of ISIS has been able to exert an outsized impact on how the world perceives it by disseminating images of graphic violence – beheading of Western journalists and aid workers etc., while on the other hand using social media to attract new recruits and inspire lone wolf attackers. The IS’ highly slick and sophisticated media unit and the recruiters are customized with strong encryption messaging applications viz. WhatsApp, Kik, Surespot and Telegram. IS has been using both darknet and social media to spread the information and attacks all over the globe.

Internet today has become so intrinsic to human life that it is taken for granted. Its contribution is recognized more by its absence, unavailability or denial. This pursuit for interconnectivity through internet has emerged a common phenomenon for both individuals and nations whether for survival or defence or development. Notwithstanding the negative implications, diffusion of information and communication technologies and proliferation of internet is unavoidable in today’s complex interconnected and interdependent world. The Paris attacks reopened crypto wars, but the need of the hour is to shape a holistic global approach to address the threat of IS and its cyber-terrorism. Moreover, the approach must have to cripple the ideology used by IS, which runs through social disintegration.

Revisiting Emile Durkheim

Le Suicide is the seminal work written by French sociologist Emile Durkheim in 1897. Durkheim has made a notable effort to declassify the myth of ‘suicides’ of his time. He has deconstructed suicide between four subsections – Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomic and Fatalistic. The study revealed that degrees of social integration, social regulation and moral obligation are the prime causes to ignite the suicide tendencies.

However, various crisis on individual’s social, political and economic life aggregates and brings annihilation to both individual and society. Technological revolution is fundamentally altering the way we live and communicate to one another. It also a flat medium to express human feelings as well as inhuman act. Nonetheless, it is not sufficient to underline that technology makes us alienated. Rather IS has been using sophisticated technology to breed a ‘cyber-honey trap’ to manipulate its means and ends.

After the Paris attack Huntington’s scholarship has become the reference point. But strategist and policy makers needs to revisit Durkheim model to study the social fact to address the mushrooming nuances of IS. It is quite evident from the 13/11 incidents that IS has been targeting the social fabric, secular and democratic values of modern society. On the other hand it also targeting those particular section of youth who are not relying on those values either willingly or forcibly. Bombing may solve the short term objective but it cannot destroy the root ideology and that perhaps reorganized as a new threats in foreseeable future. Social integration works as insulin in nation building and peace making. It is the moral obligation of all the stakeholders to destroy the ‘ideological war’ that Islamic State is playing in the cyberspace by igniting suicidal tendencies between youth. Therefore, proactive and strategic action (virtual and real) is need of the hour to deradicalize those had been radicalized by IS and simultaneously integrating them in to the mainstream.

JAYADEV PARIDA
29 January 2016

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