Cyber terrorism will become an increasing problem as the tools and techniques needed for cyber attacks become more widely available, according to a report on the government's new counter-terrorism strategy.
A senior Whitehall spokesman said al-Qaeda has called for the use of more cyber terrorism, which he described as "a foretaste of things to come". The government is therefore working on the assumption that the threat will continue to grow, the spokesman said.
Currently there is no evidence of systematic cyber terrorism, said the report. The first recorded incident of a terrorist cyber attack on corporate computer systems took place in 2010 - Tariq bin Ziyad Brigades claimed responsibility for the "Electronic Jihad". Last year, the government allocated £650m for cyber defences over the next four years.
Terrorists armed with new technologies
Home secretary Theresa May said: "As technology becomes an increasing issue for terrorists as they become more advanced [in how they use it], our capacity in dealing with it as a threat has to be constantly enhanced."
The new counter-terrorism strategy is our response to the continuing and evolving threat we face as a country, she added. "It is both comprehensive and wide-ranging, dealing with grand strategic issues and detailed technological points."
Terrorists are utilising a range of new technologies to ramp up attacks, the report found. Tools such as Google Earth and Street View are being used for planning, and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 were directed by people using off-the-shelf secure communications technology.
Software to encrypt mobile phone voice and SMS functions is widely available and improving, along with peer-to-peer networks and torrents, the report found.
Wider sharing of extremist information
Darknets, which enable users to share content anonymously, are also likely to become more popular. Cloud computing will enable terrorists to store and distribute material in a more robust way, which can then be encrypted and configured to work with smartphones.
Use of social networking sites and video sharing is now commonplace, added the report. There have been a number of attempts by terrorists and extremist groups to "invade". Facebook, although the report did not provide any details as to the form of this so-called invasion.
Twitter also poses a threat, as it is used to repost media or forum articles enabling extremist content to be shared more quickly, widely and among people who would not normally search for extremist content, said the report.
Estimates of the number of terrorism-related websites, made by experts in the field, range from several hundred to several thousand. It is clear that a few dozen are highly influential and frequented by terrorists, the report said.