Utilizing cyber espionage to combat terrorism

Gary Adkins, University of Texas at El Paso


The world has effectively exited the Industrial Age and is firmly planted in the Information Age. Global communication at the speed of light has been a great asset to both businesses and private citizens. However, there is a dark side to the age we live in, where terrorist groups are able to communicate, plan, fund, recruit, and spread their message to the world. The relative anonymity the internet provides hinders law enforcement and security agencies in not only locating would-be terrorists but also in disrupting their operations. The internet is a loosely knit group of computers and routers and is spread globally with servers hosting files, forums, chat rooms, which makes it unlikely that many are only in one country's jurisdiction. Assuming the hosting country is friendly, action can take a long time; meanwhile, the website can easily be backed up and moved to another server in another country, beginning the process over again. Legal obstacles make it very hard to seize files or listen in on communications. What if a diverse group of hackers were allowed to do what hackers do best and infiltrate not only the servers themselves but use them to spider into the terrorist's computers and even cell phones? What information might be uncovered? Take a moment and think of the trove of information that resides on your laptop and cell phone. A quick list might include banking information, tax forms, family pictures, self-portraits, and/or picture of your new car. Banking information might be in the form of cookies stored on your computer when you visit the website. Tax forms, while not advisable, do reside on many hard drives. Pictures might seem benign but they can be used to identify someone, and modern cameras and cell phones contain metadata in their files such as GPS location of any given picture taken. This sort of data was brought to the public's attention in 2010 when Adam Savage, from the show Myth Busters, took a picture of his Toyota Land Cruiser with his iPhone in front of his house and posted it on Twitter stating it was time to go to work. The GPS tagging feature was enabled and not only gave away exactly where his house was but what kind of car he drove and when he leaves for work. In 2003 due to a bug in Photo Shop, TechTV's Cat Schwartz inadvertently exposed herself to the world when she posted a cropped photo of herself on her blog which contained EXIF data which held the nude photo. Metadata is not only contained in picture files but also files such as Word documents which tend to save changes made to the file using the "auto save" feature. These examples are of normal people living normal lives but what kind of data might be residing in a terrorist's computer? This leads to another question: Is cyber espionage a viable tool to combat terrorism?

Subject Area

Information Technology|Operations research

Recommended Citation

Adkins, Gary, "Utilizing cyber espionage to combat terrorism" (2013). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1551212.