'Lone wolves' hunt in packs, says cyber expert


A cyberterrorism expert has rejected the popular idea of "lone wolf" terrorists, arguing that deadly attacks, such as those in Copenhagen and Brussels, are orchestrated by online helpers.

Professor Gabriel Weimann, who teaches communications studies at Haifa University, is currently advising the European Union on how to combat violent political extremism online.

In a wide-ranging interview, he criticised the popular image of "the single attacker who never went to a mosque, never went to a training camp, never met with anyone, but all of a sudden shows up in London and butchers a soldier or commits an attack - like in Paris".

He explained: "In nature, wolves never hunt alone, otherwise they die. They always have a pack that co-ordinates an attack. It is the same in terrorism, but the pack is virtual. They are hiding online.

"Most of the attacks over the last few years - the Boston Marathon, the attack on children in Norway - are by lone wolves. But if you start digging, as we did, their virtual footprints will lead you to the pack."

Prof Weimann, who has written several books on the subject, compared Western governments' efforts in combating cyberterrorism to "a cat chasing a mouse", as extremists can easily hide before reappearing elsewhere.

"They know we can monitor Facebook and YouTube to find them, so they publish manuals online like 'How to avoid being found on Facebook'. It's a cycle.

"We should say: 'Look, these are the emerging platforms, how can we design them in a way that they won't be able to use them?' Let's build safeguards into new systems, instead of just chasing them.

He said the international community’s slow response to the phenomenon had enabled terrorists to recruit, spread toxic messages and even teach extremists all over the world how to build bombs and attack targets.

Recent, experimental attempts by governments to counter cyberterrorism through propaganda had been, he said, “miserable and not very successful,” often because they talked to audiences in a “condescending” fashion.

In order to preempt terrorists who use Western technology to hurt the west, he recommended “virtual warriors, new soldiers who are trained to fight in cyberspace and hide in the shadows to monitor these activities.”

This, he said, would take the public and private sectors proactively deciding to work together on protecting new platforms from terrorists, as well as countries coordinating counterterrorism efforts.

“There’s nothing that coordinates the two sectors against attacks. And in cyberspace there’s no borders to cross, no nations. It's one huge world. If you find them in England and they can use networks in other countries, you are helpless. International coordination is crucial. You can sit in Indonesia and attack London.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive