- An FBI agent says terrorists are working to acquire skills that could enable them to wipe out online networks and maximise casualties.
- Aristedes Mahairas said terrorist groups might one day be able to take down America’s 911 emergency-response system or hack the control system of an office building and wreak havoc.
- The likes of ISIS and Al Qaeda may not yet have these capabilities, but they are working to secure them, he said.
The FBI has warned that terrorists are working to acquire the skills to carry out catastrophic attacks that could involve taking down America’s 911 emergency-response system.
Aristedes Mahairas, a special agent in charge of the New York FBI’s cyberdivision, said terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda were plotting attacks that could wipe out online networks to maximise casualties.
“The concern is that the cyberterrorists will one day be able to simultaneously execute an attack in the virtual world and in the physical world,” Mahairas told Business Insider.
By way of an example, the FBI agent speculated on two horror scenarios:
- A cyberterrorist, he said, could seize control of an office building’s control system, shutting down communication apparatus, elevators, and fire-safety features, such as sprinklers. “Simultaneously,” Mahairas said, they would “send in the terrorists who start taking hostages and killing indiscriminately.”
- In another scenario, Mahairas suggested terrorists could shut down the 911 emergency-response system while carrying out a physical atrocity. He also imagined a situation in which cyberterrorists wiped out access to ATMs.
“In such an environment, it would cause havoc,” said the agent, who used to lead the New York FBI’s counterterrorism operations. “The truth is that such a scenario is only limited by your imagination.”
Mahairas said that terrorist groups may not yet have the capability to launch this kind of dual-pronged attack but that the FBI was working on the assumption that they one day could.
“It’s really important to recognise that the terror groups are starting to leverage the technologies in such a way that it stands to reason that they are going to be able to recruit someone who is technically capable of spending time, effort, and energy to achieve that objective of eliminating the 911 emergency system,” he said.
“My working proposition is that they will eventually have the capability because they will be able to successfully recruit somebody,” he added.
Terrorists are also engaging hackers to help raise the money to finance attacks, according to Mahairas. “They need money,” he said. “They need funds to pay their people, to feed them, to house them. If there’s a lack of funding coming in, then they may resolve to cybercriminal schemes.”