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How Does Technology Affect Terrorism? How Has Technology Been Used In Terrorists’ Tactics Of The Past And Today?
Though the word “terrorism” is probably known since late XVIII century, the very idea of making use of violence and terror to gain political results wanted is very likely to be as old as human society itself. Targeting civilians or non-combatants in order to spread fear and to horrify the populace, and this way to undermine the ability of the enemy to resist, is known since the ancient times. But the conflicts of XXI century have demonstrated that such practices are still widely used, already on a new level of technology.
The strategies and tactics, defined as terroristic, can be used by all sides of the conflicts – invading armies, governments, law enforcements, private and semi-private forces, resistance groups, and pseudo-religious organizations. There still are many disputes about definitions and specific kinds of terrorism, but in general we tend to call “terrorists” those who kill indiscriminately, attacking civilians or non-combatants – the most vulnerable group of people.
And here comes the challenge – the more the means of killing develop over time, the more vulnerable this group becomes. Poisoning wells with rotten corpses of those who died from bubonic plague was one terroristic practice of the Medieval times. But nowadays the modern weapons of mass destruction and the respective technology to produce them represent the major threat – as the terrorists would definitely want to get the access. And they still try. However, the technology itself would never work unless the respective infrastructure, logistics, personnel and facilities are available. That is why the means of destruction they use are still, in a way, low-tech, and often homemade.
But there is one modern technology the terrorists can easily get the access to – communications and networking. For example, according to Pierluigi Paganini, “in 1998 the number of websites containing terrorist material was 12, in 2003 he counted 2,650 websites and in September 2015 the total number has reached 9,800”. That is how they proliferate.
This completely changes the agenda of global anti-terrorist efforts. Networking terrorists coordinate their efforts, exchange information and experience, and target global audiences, recruiting more followers. It makes the issue of whether their attacks are low-tech or high-tech relatively less important.
Nowadays it is quite difficult to trace the terrorists down in the crowded web space. This situation is getting even tougher because of rapid growth of encryption. The terrorists use and actively exchange encrypted content, and would probably keep on doing this in the future, because the right for privacy and content protection is what modern communications would never abandon.
Networking platforms and encrypted content could be used for the terrorists to get the access to the technology a particular group or individual did not have before. This is the threat challenging the very fundamentals of our civilization, and it must be answered.