Facebook Inc., the world’s biggest online social network, is increasingly being used by terrorists to recruit sympathizers, spread propaganda and plan potential attacks, according to the United Nations.
“Promotion of extremist rhetoric encouraging violent acts is also a common trend across the growing range of Internet-based platforms that host user-generated content,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said today in a 148-page report, “The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes.” Twitter Inc. and Google Inc.’s Youtube were also identified as primary conduits.
Counterterrorism officials met in Vienna for the release of the findings. The UN wants countries to ratify legislation to prevent so-called cyberterrorism and boost cross-border collaboration between law-enforcement agencies.
“Social networks like Facebook are taking on more and more relevance,” Germany’s top anti-terror official, Hans-Georg Maassen, said in prepared remarks. “Terrorists can develop ties irregardless of borders.”
Spokespeople at Facebook, Google and Twitter didn’t immediately return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
U.S. senators had asked Facebook, Google and Apple Inc. to support a proposed compromise cybersecurity bill in July. Congress failed to pass the so-called Cybersecurity Act this year.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Oct. 12 that the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies are seeing an increase in cyberthreats that could become as devastating as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks if they aren’t stopped.
A top concern in Germany are terrorist groups programming cyberattacks using online calls against infrastructure-control systems that run electrical, communications and water networks, Maassen said.
In 2010, control systems made by Siemens AG suffered an attack by the Stuxnet malware that targeted uranium-processing equipment in Iran. The worm could penetrate controls, send data back to its creators and eventually make the industrial process destroy itself through rapid changes in operating speeds. While not the intended target, several manufacturing operations in North America were also affected.
The UN report, funded by the U.K. government, said that the “unprecedented amount of sensitive information” published over online social networks “may be misappropriated and used for the benefit of criminal activity.”
Police and public prosecutors will increasingly need to use Facebook and other such networks to fight terrorism, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said.
“Social-media websites are a focal point and they will continue to be a focal point of our investigations in the future,” she said.