United States officials say ISIL is pursuing to launch cyberattacks against U.S. government and civilian targets, including attempts to penetrate computers that regulate the country’s electricity grid. Experts claim that while, at least for now, the level of these attacks “remain beyond the reach of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, [ISIL] has made no secret of their desire to acquire lethal capabilities” in the future. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, has claimed that the danger of a catastrophic cyberattack is currently “remote” as members of ISIL lack the “world-class expertise” necessary for these attacks. As a result, ISIL and its supporters have been left to defacing websites and pulling pranks using mediums such as Twitter, which are far easier to breach.
There is a short list of destructive cyberattacks against nation-states. The limited list does include, however, the Stuznet attack against Iran’s nuclear program and the 2012 strike against a Saudi oil company, which have been attributed to the United States and Iran, respectively. Meanwhile, terrorist organizations are focusing their cyber expertise to safeguard communications and avoid detection from foreign governments, explains Tricia Bacon, a former State Department counterterrorism official. Not to mention, terrorists seem to go after theater when plotting attacks. “As far as getting attention, there’s still going to be … an inherent advantage in things that make loud noises and flashes and kill a lot of people as opposed to digital systems going down,” claims Paul Pillar, a former CIA analyst.