Public interest in cyber-terrorism began in the late 1980s. As the year 2000 approached, the fear and uncertainty about the millennium bug heightened and interest in potential cyberterrorist attacks also increased. However, although the millennium bug was by no means a terrorist attack or plot against the world or the United States, it did act as a catalyst in sparking the fears of a possibly large-scale devastating cyber-attack. Commentators noted that many of the facts of such incidents seemed to change, often with exaggerated media reports.
More recently, the high profile terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 lead to further media coverage of the potential threats of cyberterrorism in the years following. Mainstream media coverage often discusses the possibility of a large attack making use of computer networks to sabotage critical infrastructures with the aim of putting human lives in jeopardy or causing disruption on a national scale either directly or by disruption of the national economy.
Authors such as Winn Schwartau and John Arquilla are reported to have had considerable financial success selling books which described what were purported to be plausible scenarios of mayhem caused by cyberterrorism. Many critics claim that these books were unrealistic in their assessments of whether the attacks described (such as nuclear meltdowns and chemical plant explosions) were possible. A common thread throughout what critics perceive as cyber-terror-hype is that of non-falsifiability; that is, when the predicted disasters fail to occur, it only goes to show how lucky we’ve been so far, rather than impugning the theory.
One example of cyberterrorists at work was when crackers in Romania illegally gained access to the computers controlling the life support systems at an Antarctic research station, endangering the 58 scientists involved (Note: it is also argued that this is actually not a case of cyberterrorism, but rather a case of cybercrime, as cyberterrorism requires a political motive and not a primary focus on monetary gain). However, the culprits were stopped before damage actually occurred. Mostly non-political acts of sabotage have caused financial and other damage, as in a case where a disgruntled employee caused the release of untreated sewage into water in Maroochy Shire, Australia. Computer viruses have degraded or shut down some non-essential systems in nuclear power plants, but this is not believed to have been a deliberate attack. Since the world of computers is ever-growing and still largely unexplored, countries new to the cyber-world produce young computer scientists usually interested in “having fun”. Countries like China, Greece, India, Israel, and South Korea have all been in the spotlight before by the U.S. Media for attacks on information systems related to the CIA and NSA. Though these attacks are usually the result of curious young computer programmers, the United States has more than legitimate concerns about national security when such critical information systems fall under attack. In the past five years, the United States has taken a larger interest in protecting its critical information systems. It has issued contracts for high-leveled research in electronic security to nations such as Greece and Israel, to help protect against more serious and dangerous attacks. However, many claim that this interest is starting to also target the much smaller ‘prey’ out there (ie; every-day computer crackers/pranksters), raising questions about just who is being labeled a “cyber-terrorist”.
Source : wikipedia