Computers play a significant role in data storage, and plenty of sensitive personal and institutional information is stored as digital data. Some of this information is of critical value for national security. There are three ways in which terrorists can target this data:
Using tools like viruses, they could destroy some of the data, and it might take some time for institutions to restore this data from backed-up resources. The destruction of critical data can lead to widespread chaos, even if it disappears for only a short period of time. On a smaller scale, this would be similar to a computer crash, which leaves the user temporarily unable to access the stored information on the computer.
This is similar to the ways in which the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center resulted in long-lasting financial woes for some industries. That same effect can be produced if terrorists are able to destroy critical data. Another way in which terrorists can use data is by gaining access to sensitive information.
Most computer systems are adequately protected against digital intrusion, but terrorists can access data if there is a weakness in the digital defenses. Such access might remain undetected for a long time, and the terrorist can then monitor the sensitive information that is stored in the computer system, which can then be used to plan other terror activities.
This is similar to the process of spying that is used in war; the side that has greater information about the enemy’s plans has a greater chance of winning the war. In this way, access to digital information can provide some advantage in real life. Interfering with common computer-based communication is another way in which terrorists can disrupt everyday life.
The computer has become a key component of many communication networks, including the Internet and telephone systems, both including hard-wired and wireless (cellular) systems. Terror attacks can target these communication systems by overloading the computer networks with data.
Terrorists can ﬂood the network with useless data to disrupt the ﬂow of useful data. Such attacks can cripple the way a nation responds to other attacks of terror, because people become vulnerable if they are unable to communicate with one another. Such conditions can spread panic to help the terrorists reach their goal of disrupting a normal system. Terrorists who operate in the digital realm can end up compromising national security by disrupting the normal ﬂ ow of information.
Many everyday activities of people and institutions revolve around financial exchanges, ranging from individual uses of Internet-based banking systems to the way in which large institutions exchange financial information over computer networks. This creates a dependency on these conveniences and the possible crippling of these exchanges if financial information became the target of terrorist attacks.