Wielding the double edged sword in the cyber domain – The utility of internet securitisation in countering Islamic State cyberjihad

Hiralal, Nikita (2017-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The astronomical success and ubiquity of the Internet has resulted in the manifestation of new interdependencies and vulnerabilities in the international system. Widespread access and the decentralised structure of its architectural framework has reduced barriers to participation, meaning the cyber-domain exhibits an even landscape that has served to empower non-state actors. Security threats online have created new challenges to the international community, as the multiplicity of actors and dispersed technical infrastructure of the Internet mandates transnational responses and cooperation amongst states, as well as public-private collaboration. Pronounced integration of the Internet into all facets of life has led it to being deemed a critical infrastructure, and the assertion that ensuring its safety is essential so as to preserve the security and economic interests of the nation state. Following its unprecedented success in 2014, the jihadist organisation Islamic State (IS) has supplanted al Qaeda as the greatest contemporary terrorist threat. IS has been unparalleled in its accomplishments, securing substantial territories in Iraq and Syria and rallying thousands to join its cause. Much of IS’s notoriety and appeal has been attributed to its capacity to unleash an online propaganda campaign and amass phenomenal support from the global populace, that has yet to be realised by any other terrorist groups. Recent developments in the fight against IS demonstrate that the group’s prospects for maintaining its Caliphate are tenuous at best, as global efforts have resulted in military setbacks and significant loss of territory. However, this study argues that military efforts will not suffice, as greater integration of the Internet into IS operational strategies has meant the group has been able to adopt a horizontal organisational structure that will allow it to continue the global jihad and ensure its ideology survives. This study applies the Copenhagen School’s Securitisation Theory to the single case study of IS and cyberjihad in an effort to explore how securitisation can serve to allow for more effective countermeasures to be adopted in efforts to prevent terrorist exploitation of the Internet. The main research question informing this study seeks to determine the utility of Internet securitisation in efforts that seek to mitigate the threat of IS and cyberjihad. The primary research question is supplemented by the three sub-questions that aim to determine; (1) how cyberjihadists have sought to exploit the Internet; (2) what measures have been taken to counter cyberjihad and to what degree have these measures proven successful; and (3) what the disadvantages and benefits of securitisation of the Internet are, in terms of the international security context. Findings suggest that the uptake of extraordinary measures, validated through a successful securitisation, will provide the facilitating conditions necessary for greater transnational and public-private cooperation and the additional resources required to develop more salient strategic communication measures in the battle of ideas.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die astronomiese sukses en alomteenwoordigheid van die Internet het gelei tot die manifestasie van nuwe interafhanklikhede en kwesbaarhede in die internasionale stelsel. Wydverspreide toegang en die gedesentraliseerde struktuur van die Internet se argitektoniese raamwerk verminder struikelblokke tot deelname. Dit beteken dat die kuber-domein ‘n gelyke speelveld geword het om nie-regerings akteurs te bemagtig. Aanlynse veiligheidsbedreigings het nuwe uitdagings vir die internasionale gemeenskap geskep, siende dat die veelvoudigheid van akteurs en verspreide tegniese infrastruktuur van die Internet transnasionale reaksies en samewerking tussen state sowel as openbare-private samewerking bevel. Prominente integrasie van die Internet in alle fasette van die lewe het daartoe gelei dat dit geag word as 'n kritieke infrastruktuur, en die bewering dat die versekering van veiligheid noodsaaklik is ten einde die veiligheidsbelange sowel as ekonomiese belange van die nasiestaat te bewaar. Na aanleiding van hul ongekende sukses in 2014, het die jihadistiese organisasie, Islamitiese Staat (IS), Al-Qaeda vervang as die grootste hedendaagse terroriste bedreiging. IS is ongekend in hul prestasies - die beveiliging van aansienlike gebiede in Irak en Sirië en die mobalisering van duisende om by hul stryd aan te sluit. Baie van IS se populariteit en appèl word toegeskryf aan hul vermoë om 'n aanlynse propaganda veldtog te loots wat fenomenale ondersteuning van die globale bevolking verkry het, ‘n prestasie wat nog oortref moet word deur ander terroriste groepe. Onlangse verwikkelinge in die stryd teen IS toon dat die groep se vooruitsigte om hul Kalifaat te handhaaf broos is op sy beste, aangesien globale pogings gelei het tot militêre terugslae en aansienlike verlies van grondgebiede. Nietemin, hierdie studie argumenteer dat militêre pogings nie voldoende is nie, aangesien groter integrasie van die Internet in IS se operasionele strategieë die groep instaat gestel het om 'n horisontale organisatoriese struktuur aan te neem om sodoende voort te gaan met hul globale jihad en te verseker dat hul ideologie oorleef. Hierdie studie pas die Kopenhagen-skoolse beveiligingsteorie toe op die enkele gevallestudie van IS en kuberjihad in 'n poging om te ondersoek hoe beveiliging kan dien om voorsiening te maak sodat meer doeltreffende teenmaatreëls aangeneem kan word in pogings om terroriste uitbuiting van die Internet te voorkom. Die primêre navorsingsvraag van hierdie studie poog om die nut van Internet-beveiliging in pogings wat daarop gemik is om die bedreiging van IS kuberjihad te versag te bepaal. Die primêre navorsingsvraag word aangevul deur drie sub-vrae wat daarop gemik is om te bepaal; (1) hoe kuberjihadiste probeer om die Internet uit te buit; (2) watter maatreëls getref is om kuberjihad teen te werk en tot watter mate is hierdie maatreëls suksesvol bewys; en (3) wat die nadele en voordele van beveiliging van die Internet is, in terme van die internasionale veiligheidskonteks. Bevindinge dui daarop dat die opname van buitengewone maatreëls, bekragtig deur 'n suksesvolle beveiliging, sal die fasilitering van toestande wat nodig is vir aansienlike transnasionale en openbare-private vennootskappe en die bykomende hulpbronne wat nodig is om meer belangrike strategiese kommunikasie maatreëls in die stryd van idees te ontwikkel voorsien.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/100806
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