Gordon Corera Warns of Cyber Terrorism

CYBER attacks on governments by terrorist groups like Islamic State are just a matter of time, espionage expert Gordon Corera has said. The BBC security correspondent said he believed that, though cyber terrorism was “the dog that hasn’t quite barked yet”, extremists would inevitably follow where governments had already gone.

He said: “We’ve begun to see this with states destroying computer systems. In Saudi, Aramco, an oil company, had its computers destroyed ostensibly by a terrorist group but everyone thinks it was a front for Iran, and of course America and Israel destroyed part of the Iranian nuclear programme.  We’ve not quite seen terrorists use it yet on a great scale, and nobody’s sure when we will see it. Previous terrorist groups like Al Qaeda said ‘we want bombs, we deal with explosions, not cyber’, but I think this new generation [of extremists] will almost certainly try it. It takes a bit of work but I don’t think it’s beyond them and that’s one of the big worries. We haven’t seen it yet, but I think we’ll see it very soon.”

Corera said that Islamic State’s use of cutting-edge encryption technology was already “astounding”. He said: “They [IS] start off on Twitter, directly message them [potential recruits] there, and if they want to have a confidential conversation with them they will say ‘let’s move to this particular application’ because they know it’s encrypted in a particular way that the secret services can’t access.”

Corera added that, the fact that many of those going to fight in the Middle East were under 25 and have grown up with social media technology and know how to exploit it, gave them a clear advantage over the 40 and 50-year-olds who were trying to counter them, but were less adept or agile with the technology.

The journalist, talking about his new book, Intercept, also raised the concept of the ‘democratisation’ of espionage and emergence of ‘citizen spies’: skilled hackers who will infiltrate official spy agencies for their own ideological reasons and release the information they find into the public domain.   He added: “This is a complicated new world we are getting into, in which spying is something we are going to be seeing much more, though we may not always call it spying.”

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