Mapping Global Cyberterror Networks: An Empirical Study of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Cyberterrorism Events

This study explores the internal dynamics and networks of terrorist groups in cyberspace—in particular, Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Using a “Global Cyberterrorism Dataset” that features data on cyberterror attacks between 2011 and 2016, this research analyzes these two terrorist groups through the lens of a cyber-conflict theory that integrates conflict theory with Jaishankar’s space transition theory. Through a network analysis methodology, we examine the invisible relationships and connections between the national origins and target countries of cyberterror attacks. The analysis focuses on the networks of national origins of terrorists and victims, network structures of Al-Qaeda and ISIS actors, and clustering networks of Al-Qaeda and ISIS cyberterrorists. Results indicate that terror in cyberspace is ubiquitous, more flexible than traditional terrorism, and that cyberattacks mostly occurred within the countries of origin. We conclude by discussing the complex features of cyberterror networks and identify some of the geostrategic implications of the divergent cyber strategies adopted by Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Tags: Al-Qaeda, cyber-conflict theory, Cyberterrorism, ISIS, Social Network Analysis, space transition theory