Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 223-238

First online:

Cyber terrorism: a clear and present danger, the sum of all fears, breaking point or patriot games?

  • Michael StohlAffiliated withDepartment of Communication, University of California Email author 

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Over the past two decades there has developed a voluminous literature on the problem of cyber terrorism. The themes developed by those writing on cyber terrorism appear to spring from the titles of Tom Clancy’s fiction, such as Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and Breaking Point, or somewhat more cynically, Patriot Games. This essay examines both the gap between the presumed threat and the known cyber terror behaviors and the continuing literature which suggests an attack is imminent. It suggests that at least part of the explanation lies both in the continuing failure to distinguish between what Denning (Activism, hacktivism, and cyber terrorism: The internet as a tool for influencing foreign policy, 1999) referred to as hactivism and cyberterrorism and also the failure to distinguish between the use of digital means for organizational purposes (information, communication, command and control) and the use of digital communications to actually commit acts of terror.