Monday, December 4, 2023

Taking on Terrorism with Technology

Deepak Halan is associate professor at School of Management Sciences, Apeejay Stya University

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In his book Cybershock, Winn Schwartau mulls over some possible effects of a well-orchestrated electromagnetic pulses (EMP) attack upon Western infrastructure. Wall Street or other banking systems could be attacked, resulting in successive failures and huge financial losses. Aircraft avionics and guidance systems could be overloaded by targeted high-energy radio frequency, leading to potentially fatal conditions.

Medical equipment could malfunction under the attack of intense energy spikes, putting several human lives at risk. Municipal emergency services could be terminated by devastating wide-band microwave jamming, and power lines and transformers could act as highly-efficient conductors to transmit massive currents to businesses and sub-stations, leading to regional blackouts.

Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives. Terrorist groups are becoming international, dedicated, organised and structured and, year after year, emerging as a big threat to peace and prosperity. They are relying increasingly on technology to become more lethal, dangerous and difficult to combat.

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The 9/11 terrorist attack on American soil killed almost 3000 people (Image courtesy:
Fig. 1: The 9/11 terrorist attack on American soil killed almost 3000 people (Image courtesy:

Their motives are not limited to political but include religious or ideological objectives, too. Modern technologies are being adapted to effectively coordinate and support their activities, collect money and spread information and propaganda. For example, using IT and the Internet, terrorists have developed sophisticated and versatile communication techniques. Bill Clinton, former president of the USA, once stated, “Our security is challenged increasingly by non-traditional threats from adversaries, both old and new, not only hostile regimes, but also international criminals and terrorists who cannot defeat us in traditional theaters of battle, but search instead for new ways to attack by exploiting new technologies and the world’s increasing openness.”

Current technologies being used to combat terrorism

There is an urgent need for leveraging internationally the expertise and research programs to develop new and improved technologies to combat terrorism. This is expected to help prevent terrorist attacks and provide militaries with improved capabilities to detect, disrupt and pursue terrorists.

There is also a need to provide the capability to deal with the effects of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. Presently, various technological tools and techniques have been deployed to combat terrorism. Some of these technologies are fairly mature, while others show great potential but still require some years of research and development before these are fully operational.

Yet, all technologies share a common characteristic; these offer significant potential solutions to address the most pressing anti-terrorism concerns.

The technologies are:
• Directed-energy weapons
• Non-lethal weapons
• Nanotechnology
• Biometrics
• Data mining and analysis technologies
• Network-centric operations

Directed-energy weapons.

These weapons generate very high-power beams such as lasers and microwave radiations that are precisely focused to hit targets with sub-atomic particles, both to track and destroy.

Directed-energy weapons have the capability to cause casualties, damage equipment, disable targets on ground, air and sea, and provide active defence against threats from artillery, rockets, mortars, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.

A laser with US Naval Sea Systems Command (NSSC), which is an electromagnetic gun prototype (Image courtesy:
Fig. 2: A laser with US Naval Sea Systems Command (NSSC), which is an electromagnetic gun prototype (Image courtesy:

Non-lethal weapons.

These are employed to incapacitate personnel or material while minimising fatalities and undesired damage to property and environment. Their functions include preventing or neutralising the means of transportation such as vehicles, vessels or aircraft including those for weapons of mass destruction.

The technologies used include acoustics systems, chemicals, communications systems, electromagnetic and electrical systems, entanglement and other mechanical systems, information technologies, optical devices, non-penetrating projectiles and munitions, and more. These can be integrated with systems to make these more effective and discriminate.

terrorism in recent years


Nanotechnology involves developing materials and complete systems at atomic, molecular or macromolecular levels where dimensions fall in the range of one to 100 nanometres. Fabrication at such nano scale offers unique capabilities, and materials can be made to have specific properties.

Among anti-terrorism applications, sensors using nanotechnology are most important. Nano-scale sensors form a weak chemical bond with the substance and then change their properties in response (such as colour change, or a change in conductivity, fluorescence or weight). As an anti-terrorism tool, nanotechnologies are relatively in their infancy stage vis-à-vis other technologies.


This refers to recorded unique physical or behavioural characteristics of individuals. These are more reliable and more difficult to forget, lose, get stolen, falsified or be guessed. Biometrics can be used for verification or identification. For identification, a person’s presented biometric is compared with all biometric templates within a database.

Face recognition technology identifies individuals by analyzing several features such as the upper outlines of eye sockets and sides of the mouth
Fig. 3: Face recognition technology identifies individuals by analysing several features such as the upper outlines of eye sockets and sides of the mouth (Image courtesy:

Five major types of biometric technologies available today are:
1. Iris recognition that relies on distinctly-coloured ring surrounding the pupil of the eye
2. Hand geometry that relies on measurements of fingers, distances between joints and the shapes of knuckles
3. Fingerprint recognition that relies on features in the impressions made by distinct ridges on fingertips
4. Face recognition that identifies individuals by analysing facial features such as the upper outlines of eye sockets or sides of the mouth
5. Voice recognition that is based on the differences in voice


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