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Challenges of Cyber security

What is online violence? Is it terrorism? Bruce Hoffman, an American political analyst says terrorism is a deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.

Relations between countries are recognised today by the conditions they impose for ‘Peace’ and for ‘war’. However, ‘peace’ does not necessarily mean a lack of conflict and ‘war’ does not mean major conventional or nuclear war between nations. Countries do not wage full blown wars any more. They do not use conventional weapons either. Many of them would probably resort to economic wars so the opponents political and military power is threatened. Trade embargoes, boycotts, sanctions, tariff discrimination, freezing of capital assets, suspension of aid, prohibition of investment and expropriation are all the new war tools.

Whereas countries may wage a low intensity war such as guerrilla attacks and terrorism to seize a limited initiative, disaffected groups and so called revolutionaries may do the same for putting pressure on governments. Some governments may even be involved directly by giving aid to the insurgency movements.

Even as the world is coming to terms with an ever-changing crime scenario, online crime, online violence and online terrorism seem to be the new standards in the world of crime.  WhatsApp, social media and the ever-evolving internet are the vehicles. With the lines blurring between cybercrime and cyber terrorism, are we not witnessing an increasing instance of them, be it election meddling, dissemination of propaganda through social media, hacktivism or targeting of critical infrastructures amongst others?

Cyberterrorism is the “convergence of cyberspace and terrorism” and includes use of social media by terrorist groups to spread their ideology. Without the “cyber”, such activity is mere propaganda. The difference must be appreciated so solutions to tackle it are found.

Technology firms may pledge to come up with new measures for stamping out violent extremist content on the internet, amid growing pressure from governments pushing for action. How effective they actually are is anybody’s guess. With crime, live streamed on Facebook via head-mounted cameras and silent backend technology supporting series of bombs that rip through churches and hotels, probably both the technology firms and the government need to do much more.

Any intervention to stamp out gore and death is welcome. Recognition that the future is anchored in the ‘cyber’ in times of war or in times of peace will augur well. Google, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft coming together and setting up a “Christchurch Call” in the wake of the shootout in New Zealand is good. However, action on the ground is the key.

There is a collateral damage too, besides the real that is borne by the people when an act of terrorism is perpetrated. Why cannot the social media giants block video streaming, “FaceBook Live” as soon as a breach occurs? They all use ML algorithms and data analytics that profile and predict events anyway. “Digital fingerprinting” to track and remove harmful pictures, illicit content and videos also can be done. Surely people’s lives are more important. Freedom of speech is all important but it cannot be misused or threaten others right to live.

Every one of us use social media for propaganda or for entertainment. Politicians and Political parties use it for political gains. We often complain that media companies must prevent their platforms from broadcasting cyber violence but hardly follow rules or ethics in the use of social media. How does one stop hate speeches by political parties? If there are supporters for them, there are also those who oppose it. One speech could eventually cross the line and cause mayhem. Preventing content from being uploaded and tracking, needs massive resources. Stringent IT Act amendments to levy penalties on companies failing to take down offensive content once it is flagged will help. Of course, we have cybercrime warriors and their tools to help us. However, it is important to understand that whereas the entire cyber space must be watched by a cyber warrior, a cyber terrorist has only his target to watch for.

Labelling a crime as ‘cyberterrorism’ must be judicious.  Overusing the term can lead to unwarranted hysteria that can oversimplify cyber-attacks. It can also shift the focus away from real issues that plague cybersecurity. Cyber crime is big business. But so is Cyber Security.

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