Nowadays, it is almost impossible to find a jihadist organization which does not have its own online niche because the Internet provides endless opportunities for extremists, helping to override many traditional problems. Given this operational shift, counterterrorist policies have to be revised and adjusted in order to successfully prevent terrorist activities. Also, control over the online terrorist activities is of utmost importance because, as the attack of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon shows, counter terrorist professionals underestimated the significance of cyberspace and information collected there.
In light of this, the new book by Weimann can be found timely and valuable for a wide audience of readers. Providing an in deep study of numerous aspects of this important issue, this masterpiece is perfect to start with for students and scholars. Gabriel Weimann’s book analyzes the expansion of terrorists’ presence on the Internet in terms of its transformation, the impact on terrorist structural organization, and strategical approaches. In particular, the author tries to project the evolution of terrorist threat and how the global community has to confront it.
Articulating the importance of the Internet, the author underlines in part one of the book that terrorist groups began to acquire use of the Internet in the 1990s and since that time, have continued learning and reaching critical results. For terrorists, cyberspace serves many crucial functions that have been a serious problem recently: recruitment, indoctrination, fund-raising, the spread of propaganda material, psychological warfare, information gathering, coordination, communication, and virtual training. Being in constant search for new ways of communication, terrorists have increased their presence on brand-name social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. According to the author, it is a serious issue in light of the fact that counterterrorist measures and the efforts of these corporations are not effective enough to prevent the circulation of extremist materials. Interestingly, the active usage of the Internet by terrorist groups alter them structurally: instead of a traditional hierarchical organization of terrorist groups with a direct chain of command, a global jihadist network with semi-independent branches has become more popular.
The second part of the book focuses on three new tendencies produced by active terrorism entering into cyberspace. The author defines the first tendency as “narrowcasting”, which means the opportunity to embrace previously unreachable categories of the population: women and children. Another tendency refers to the modification of the lone wolf phenomenon. This form of terrorism is growing and promises to become an extremely serious issue due to the availability of extremist online materials, practical instructions, and the demands for these attacks from terrorist organizations. Stressing the importance of online fatwas and forum discussions, which have become a popular form of communication among terrorists, the author examines these new tendencies in terms of counterterrorism perspectives. Also, Weimann makes a unique attempt to scrutinize Hamas websites through the e-marketing model of Chaffey and his colleagues in order to determine the logic of Hamas’s decision makers in cyberspace. Worth noticing is the fact that it is a very promising application in the search for effective terrorism deterrents.
The third part of the book focuses on future threats and challenges. Weimann emphasizes that terrorists, who are aware of the power of the Web, demonstrate a growing intent to conduct cyberattacks on the most important infrastructures of states and are recruiting Internet savvy individuals. So far, the striking difference between jihadist and state-employed hackers is obvious in terms of their capabilities, skills, damage, technologies, targets, etc. However, the author believes that the situation will change soon. While, previously, these attacks were mostly committed by a few jihadist enthusiasts, the day is coming when they will receive serious support from an interested government or governments, who are ready to use terrorists pursuing particular political goals. As the reality of the situation indicates, several states already sponsored cyberattacks, trying to weaken their competitors. In fact, there are a number of reasons why cyberterrorism attracts terrorist organizations: anonymity, the absence of geographical obstacles, vulnerability, the extent of damage, minimal resources, and a larger psychological impact.
The Internet made terrorists more powerful as well as more vulnerable for counterterrorist measures. However, the level of presence and terrorists’ efficiency in cyberspace dramatically outpace traditionally oriented government agencies. At the end of the book, Weimann provides recommendations of how to effectively protect society from online terrorism and succeed in the ongoing virtual war. In this regard, he calls on us to revise the negative connotation of the concept of noise, which can interrupt informational flows and communication among radicals. Also, this concept will help to cover the existing theoretical gap in the comprehension of this virtual ideological war. To be effective, counterterrorism agencies have to collect information and monitor online terrorist activities, including the content of their websites, forum discussions, etc. Simultaneously, the agencies have to launch psychological attacks in order to discredit their agenda and to articulate a peaceful alternative.
This book addresses pivotal (and even interlocked) issues about the evolution of terrorism due to increasing reliance on the Web. Despite the essential difficulty and complexity of material, the author establishes a clear structure and masterfully guides readers through a diverse set of topics. It is important to underline that all materials in this book are related to each other in a very understandable manner. Despite the publication date of this book, there is no information or analysis of the most terrifying terrorist organization – the Islamic State. However, this cannot diminish the immense contribution to the terrorism studies this volume presents.
Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation
Gabriel Weimann, Woodrow Wilson Center Press with Columbia University Press, 2015