With increasing cases of data breaches and information loss happening on the Internet, cyber attacks are outpacing physical attacks among far-left groups and can cause greater destruction, researchers say. According to lead author Thomas Holt, Professor at the Michigan State University (MSU), the high-profile nature of the internet — on which the ideological groups can manipulate traffic — is the ideal platform to attack.
The ideologically motivated attacks are devised to have an emotional and economic impact on groups that go against their beliefs. “Little work has been done around the use of the internet as an attack space,” Holt said.
“The bottom line is that these attacks are happening and they’re overlooked. If we don’t get a handle understanding them now, we won’t fully understand the scope of the threats today and how to prevent larger mobilization efforts in the future.”
To understand these attacks, Holt aanalyzed the scope, growth and impact of ideological cyber terrorist incidents from far-left groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front and the hacker conglomerate group, Anonymous.
These groups, do not necessarily want to physically harm humans; rather, they are motivated by animal and environmental activism and feel passionate about attacking companies, organisations and government entities that go against their beliefs, Holt explained, in the paper published in the Terrorism and Political Violence journal.
Holt’s research also examined physical and cyber terror attacks committed by these far-left groups between 2000 and 2015 in the US, UK and Canada. “These groups might strike domestically, but their damage on the web can be widespread and a concurrent risk for companies and consumers alike. It could be even greater,” Holt said.