CYBER CRIME: ‘Cyber terrorists want to terrify entire civilisations’

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The Internet is an everyday part of life for most people - but terrorists are increasingly going online to radicalise people and inspire them to carry out attacks.

AASMA DAY talks to some Lancashire experts about the real threat posed to society of cybercrime and terrorism

Dr Tim Owen, director of the University of Central Lancashire's Cybercrime Research Unit,

Dr Tim Owen, director of the University of Central Lancashire's Cybercrime Research Unit,

The risk of terrorism through cyber attacks

“The NHS is a vital artery in society, but there are many others.”

Dr Tim Owen, director of the University of Central Lancashire’s Cybercrime Research Unit, says terrorism through the Internet presents a real threat to society and believes the recent cyber attack on the NHS shows nothing is safe.

He says: “Cyber terrorism is a new form of terrorism. The Internet is intrinsic to what terrorists do and nowadays, not terrorist would operate without the Internet as there is so much information stored online.

Professor Awais Rashid, Lancaster University's top academic on cyber security and the co-director of the Security Lancaster Institute

Professor Awais Rashid, Lancaster University's top academic on cyber security and the co-director of the Security Lancaster Institute

“A lot of what terrorists do is on cyberspace so a three-pronged approach is needed as we need to fight them ideologically, fight them with boots on the ground and fight them in the cyber world.

“Terrorists feel empowered by the Internet as they can target a lot of people at once.

“They want to terrify entire civilisations.

“Organisations like ISIS are demonising the religion and perverting the holy book.

“There is nothing in there that is terroristic - but there are individuals out there who could pervert the Beano if they wanted to.

“I always tell people not to confuse Islamic and Islamists.

“The most pressing threat at the moment is because of the so -called Islamist groups but it is by no means the only threat.

“One particular danger is the phenomenon of the ‘Unabomber’ - a single person operating on their own.

FormeDet Chief Supt Tony Mole of the NW Counter Terrorism unit

FormeDet Chief Supt Tony Mole of the NW Counter Terrorism unit

“There has been an increase in Unabombers as there are more and more disaffected individuals in society.

“Cybercrime and terrorism presents a massive risk to society.

“Terrorists have got the potential to massively tap into our infrastructure and disrupt people’s lives in a lethal way.

“Terrorists could target utility companies and more frighteningly, the nuclear industry.

Prof Awais Rashid, Lancaster University’s top academic on cyber security and co-director of the Security Lancaster Institute, agrees there is a risk of infrastructure being targeted.

He says: “Given that we have seen these attacks elsewhere, it is not inconceivable that our infrastructure in the UK could be targeted by malicious parties.

“The problem is that with a lot of critical infrastructure, the systems were designed a long time ago when security was not a main consideration.

“They were not connected to anything, but now they are connected to the Internet.

“Sometimes it is not easy to build security features in because of the strict performance requirements as you want the system to respond very quickly.

“If there are a cyber attack on one of these facilities, the disruption to society would be huge and there is the potential for serious loss of life.

“The focus is increasingly on defending against such attacks and a lot of work is going on.”

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Terrorists using internet to radicalise

Terrorists are using the Internet to radicalise people and inspire them to carry out terror attacks, a former head of counter terrorism claims.

Tony Mole, formerly Det Ch Sup for the North West Counter Terrorism Unit who retired earlier this year, says although any business or organisation is vulnerable to cyber attacks and a terrorist can use the same skills as a cyber criminal, their aim is to terrify people.

Mr Mole, from Lancashire, explains: “From experience and by looking at attacks such as the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, you can see that terrorism is about striking fear into people.

“Their psyche and method is to put terror into people. If they can scare people from going to a concert, walking over a bridge or going to a football match, then they have achieved their aim.”

However, Mr Mole says terrorists are using the Internet as an enabling tool to inspire people to carry out attacks and radicalise vulnerable people.

He says: “These terror cells and organisations push to encourage and inspire people and pump out propaganda and manuals on things like how to make a bomb using household chemicals or how to buy a van for a terror attack.

“Social media and the Internet is one of the main ways terrorists are communicating. Radicalisers are using social media sites to find like-minded people.

“The material is out there and there are pumped up articles. If you are a determined terrorist, you can find information on the Internet pushed out by these organisations.

“The Internet is used in all walks of life and features all sorts of information, good and bad.”

Mr Mole says one of the problems is you can always find people on the Internet to reinforce your views.

He believes radicalisers are grooming vulnerable people in the same way paedophiles groom young people.

He explains: “If you have strong views, you will always find like-minded people who reinforce what you think.

“It is one of the attractions of the Internet - but it is also one of the dangers if all you are doing is finding people who reinforce your views.

“If you have really strong views, really you should be talking to someone with an alternative view to get a balanced perspective.

“These radicalisers are finding angry young people and reinforcing their views.

“It is a process that is no different from the way a paedophile operates and they groom very vulnerable people.

“They are preying on vulnerable and suggestible people.

“Some people, of all ages and backgrounds, are vulnerable to extreme messages and radicalisers will target those people.

“It is a form of grooming.”

Mr Mole says early identification is key and says more work is needed to be done to get the alternative messages out there.

He says: “There is a lot of work being done by the prevent teams but there is more work to be done and communities, organisations and Government agencies need to get more relevant on the Internet.

“There is a balance between not offending people but making messages relevant by getting the opposite view across to people who are attracted by radicalisation.

“Alternative messages need to be just as attractive to make them think before acting.”

Mr Mole says if people suspect someone is getting involved with the wrong people, they need to report it to agencies who have the capability to do professional assessments and decide if further intervention is needed.

“If someone is getting worse, they are assessed and it is escalated.

“But the key thing is: if you don’t tell them, they won’t know and can’t do anything.

“It is about bringing in the right people to deal with it.

“Doing nothing should not be an option.

“You can report someone through your local authority or the anti-terrorism hotline.”

Mr Mole says that although the UK terror threat was at “severe” for a long time and it was widely publicised it was a case of “when” and not “if”, no one could have predicted there would be so many attacks this year.

He says: “I genuinely don’t think anyone could have predicted there would be so many terrorist attacks in such a short space of time.

“However, security services have also been exceptionally successful in stopping these types of attacks and over the last 12 months, more than 300 arrests have been made.

“When you are dealing with large numbers of threats, the threat is moving all the time.

“What has occurred is devastating and everything is being reviewed to look at prevention.”

While terrorists now operate and communicate online, Mr Mole says law enforcement also have the capability to operate on the Internet and by doing do have been able to foil plots.

He admits: “It is not easy as the Internet is so huge. But the police can and do work together and have invested in sophisticated software and carry out undercover operations online.

“Terrorists can cross borders and operate anywhere and the Internet is enabling organisations to communicate with people on the ground with long distance conversations.

“But the counter terrorism police can work with other law enforcement agencies and have been able to stop plots and convict terrorists.”

Casy study - youngest convicted terrorist

A Lancashire teenager who used his smartphone to plot the Anzac Day beheading of Australian police officers at the age of just 14 became the youngest terrorist to be detained for life.

The boy, who cannot be named foe legal reasons, concocted the plot from his bedroom in Blackburn and sent thousands of messages to a man in Melbourne to incite him to carry out the killings.

The schoolboy constructed a fantastical identity online and amassed 24,00 Twitter followers and operated almost 90 different accounts sharing Isis propoganda and other extremist material.

He then contacted an Isis recruiter fighting in Syria who instigated the teenager’s contact with a jihadi enthusiast in Melbourne and they began discussing the potential attack on Anzac Day.

The teenager encouraged the man to do a practice run by breaking into someone’s house.

Hours after that exchange, the schoolboy was under arrest.

He had already been under the attention of authorities after threatening to kill teachers at his school and had even drawn up a list on who to kill first.

Concerned school staff had referred him to the government’s flagship deradicalisation programme Channel in 2013 but he failed to respond to it and the situation escalated leading to the planned attack in March 2015.

His parents were divorced and his family said they were completely unaware of his activities.

Tony Mole, formerly Det Ch Sup for the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, says the boy was recruited online through social media and the Internet was then used as an enabler for terrorism by the teenager by communicating with someone on the other side of the world.

He says: “They originally made contact on social media and then took their conversation to a private level by having encrypted conversations on things like Whatsapp.

“When terrorists get more involved, they have conversations in this way. When someone is professing radicalism, the aim of the terrorist is to get them online.

“We arrested him and lawfully decoded the app by using sophisticated technology.

“This young boy had already been reported to Channel but did not respond to their intervention and was getting worse.

“Luckily, we managed to stop the planned attack and this teenager got life imprisonment.

“It was disturbing to realise someone had been radicalised at such a young age and if this plot had not been thwarted, it would have resulted in a number of deaths.”