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Computer terrorism: What are the risks?



Our society relies more and more upon computers. No matter where you are or what you do, you are likely to deal, either directly or indirectly with computer. When you pay with your credit card, book a seat on an aircraft, deposit money in your bank account and even when you simply make a phone call, it is a computer which, finally, deals with you.

From time to time, the press reveals to the public that computer hackers broke into such or such system, stole hundreds of credit cards numbers and can now consult and modify the contents of your bank account or visit the computers of the army. It has also taught us that computer viruses jump from computer to computer waiting for the opportune moment to destroy the contents of our hard disks.

What would happen, if an organization or a government united these isoleteds hacker's skills to take a large scale action against a State? Authors such as Winn Schwartau in his novel Terminal Compromised [SCHWAR93] have exploited this assumption.

Is such scenario possible or is this merley the speculation of science fiction authors.

This is the question that I will try to answer in this document. I will only concentrate on strongly industrialized countries, particularly the United States in which the computer infrastructures are well developed.


First of all, I will speak briefly about terrorism and the terrorists, in order to determine if their motivations and usual methods would allow them to use computer as new weapon (or as a new target) and to thus obtain results similar to the use of bombs, kidnappings or assassinations.

Then, I will touch upon the topic of computer criminality to show what motivated people can do with computers that do not belong to them.

I will discuss the vulnerability of certain significant information processing systems, about breakdowns or sabotages.

I will talk about "Information Warfare", one of the US Army's new prefered subjects, in order to see at which point the risk of such a conflict worries them.

Finally, I will synthesize all of these elements and will attempt to determine if there is or if there is not a risk of computer terrorism.


There is a lexicon at the end of this document that gives the significance of all the technical terms and acronyms.

The references to works or articles will be given between brackets with the name of the author and the year, for example: [BRANDT95]. By clicking on this reference you will jump directly to the bibliography.

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