ATbar The Evolving Law on Cyber Terrorism: Dilemmas in International Law and Israeli Law

The Evolving Law on Cyber Terrorism: Dilemmas in International Law and Israeli Law

25/03/2013 | by Housen-Couriel, Deborah (Adv.)  

Hostile cyber attacks have become front-page news. Increasingly, they are described as cyber terror attacks by journalists, decisionmakers and the perpetrators themselves. Several recent examples are representative:

  • In January 2012, tens of thousands of Israelis were the unwilling victims of 0xOmar, a hacker claiming to be a Saudi national whose plan was to use cyber terrorism in order to "…hurt Israel -- politically, economically and culturally," as the hacker wrote in an email exchange with an Israeli media source. The 0xOmar attacks targeted and exposed the personal and credit card data of Israelis, Jewish and Arab alike, on readily accessible websites. They caused uproar in the Israeli media, and among government leaders, politicians and consumer privacy groups, instigating an unprecedented public debate over the state of the country's cyber security readiness.
  • On May 22, 2012 an Al-Qaeda video calling for "electronic jihad" against infrastructure and other targets was shown by the FBI to the US House of Representatives' Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Chairman Senator Joe Lieberman stated: "This is the clearest evidence we've seen that Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups want to attack the cyber systems of our critical infrastructure …."Congress needs to act now to protect the American public from a possible devastating attack…on our electric grid, water delivery systems or financial networks, for example." 
  • In retaliation for the  anti-Muslim video called "The Innocence of Muslims" that was posted on Google’s YouTube in September 2012, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters launched Operation Ababil, a series of DDoS attacks against major banks in the West which utilize Google cloud hosting, including Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, BB&T and HSBC. 
  • During Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel's Minister of Finance proclaimed that Israel had been exposed to 100 million internet attacks on private, commercial and government websites, including 44 million on government sites. Many of these were carried out by elements hostile to Israel and made their hostile intent clear by "signing" websites and malevolent messages. 

All of the above incidents raise clear and urgent questions about the nature and scope of real-world damage that can - and cannot - be wreaked by hostile actors leveraging the power of the internet, and the ways in which the international legal system and global policymakers should be coping with such threats. 

But are they cyber terrorism?

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