With threats like those in mind, this fall the administration released what it billed as “the first fully articulated cyber strategy in 15 years.” But as more countries, and organizations, gain access to destructive online tools, the nightmare scenario of entire cities suddenly going dark, or rogue actors gaining control of weapons systems, doesn’t seem far-fetched. And the chaos and possible destruction that could result is just the sort of outcome a terrorist might seek to inflict.
Three main barriers are likely preventing this. For one, cyberattacks can lack the kind of drama and immediate physical carnage that terrorists seek. Identifying the specific perpetrator of a cyberattack can also be difficult, meaning terrorists might have trouble reaping the propaganda benefits of clear attribution. Finally, and most simply, it’s possible that they just can’t pull it off.