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We've recently seen silly articles hyping the threat of terrorists using virtual worlds and other Web 2.0 sites for recruitment

InformationWeek Staff

February 29, 2008

15 Min Read

CMP Information WeekInformationWeek Daily - Friday, Feb 29, 2008

Editor's Note

Don't Discount The Threat Of Web 2.0 Terror
We've recently seen silly articles hyping the threat of terrorists using virtual worlds and other Web 2.0 sites for recruitment, planning, and training. And we've seen equally silly articles ridiculing the idea. The truth is that Web 2.0 tools are great for terrorism, for the same reasons they're great for legitimate projects. That doesn't mean we should shut down Facebook and Second Life to protect ourselves from instant, horrible death. But we do need to rationally evaluate possible threats. Salon weighs in with the latest silly article.: Lately there has been some rather bizarre hype about the potential threat from terrorists in cyberspace. Security specialists have been expressing increasing concern about the potential for mischief with Web 2.0. In particular, during the past six months a spate of newspaper articles have been citing security experts about the alleged danger that terrorists will use virtual worlds for nefarious purposes. Groups such as the U.S. government's Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity say they fear that terrorists -- using virtual personas called "avatars" -- will recruit new members online, transfer funds in ways that cannot be traced, and may engage in training exercises that are useful for real-world terrorist operations. They point to existing "terrorist groups" operating on virtual reality sites as an ominous sign. The threat of terrorists using Web 2.0 is real. The same characteristics that make Second Life and other Web 2.0 tools great for collaboration on legitimate projects make them great for collaboration by terrorists: The tools are inexpensive, they're easy to use, you can use them anonymously and shield your real identity, they're globally available, and they facilitate communications between teams of people. Faced with the prospect of terrorists using Web 2.0 tools, what should we do about it?: We can put our fingers in our ears and go la, la, la, la, la, la and pretend the problem doesn't exist. We can demonize Web 2.0 tools and virtual worlds, hold shrill government hearings, publish sensationalist headlines, scare the spit out of everybody, create thousands of pages of pointless government regulation, inconvenience hundreds of millions of Internet users, and wantonly violate civil rights. Or we can look into apparent terrorist threats on Web 2.0 sites, while keeping a cool head and letting the overwhelming majority of people continue using the sites for work, play, and -- most definitely -- political dissent. What do you think? Is terrorism using Web 2.0 a threat? Let us know. Mitch Wagner
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