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Debordering and Rebordering in Cyberspace: Technological and political aspects; counter-terrorist management of Islamist extremist cyberspace threats

Debordering and Rebordering in Cyberspace:  Technological and political aspects; counter-terrorist management of Islamist extremist cyberspace threats


Outline, including interdisciplinary dimension

In the autumn of 2014 western governments identified ISIS as a clear and immediate threat to security. One dimension of the threat which has been significantly over-looked is cyber-space which ISIS are utilising.

There are now credible threats that ISIS could employ cyber-weaponry in attacks that transcend borders and national security functions to penetrate and damage western states and companies.[1]

Such threats  further emphasis the extent to which over the last 15 years a range of Islamist extremist groups (domestic and foreign) have increasingly utilised Cyberspace to plan and commit criminal and terrorist acts against Western states and companies.

There is a concern that Cyberspace is and will continue to be used to undermine and attack Western states and companies as one tool in the pursuit of extension of Muslim Caliphate, and war against Jahili-Kufr  entities.

Evidence of such concerns were apparent when the Islamist inspired (and ISIS-affiliated) Lizard Squad targeted gaming websites including Sony and Microsoft.[2] Western media outlets have been subject to ISIS hacking claims (Cyber-Caliphate) and the Cyberspace based Hacktivists of Anonymous have clashed virtual swords with Islamists extremists also.

The purpose of this PhD project is twofold.

  1. To engage with the different dimensions of discourses of Cyber-crime and terrorism that have emerged in the last two decades in relation to the specific Islamist extremist manifestation in relation to: (i) Recruitment, (ii) Organization (iii) Publicising (iv) Cyber-enabled attacks (v) Cyber-terrorism and (vi) Psyber-warfare involving state and  non-state Cyber actors).[3]
  2. To critically analyse state counter-terrorist options open specifically for the management of Islamist extremist cyberspace presence. This will necessitate engagement with key government strategies and policies that seek to protect their citizens and economies.

debordering, security, ISIS, extremism, cyber-space

First supervisor

Professor Beverley Milton-Edwards - School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics

Secondary supervisor from a complementary discipline

Professor Sezer Sakir - Centre for Secure Information Technologies

Supervisors’ track record of PhD completions, plus excellence and international standing in the project area

Both supervisors have an excellent track record and excellent in the project area.

Intersectoral exposure and/or international mobility

(e.g. secondments to/collaboration with partner organizations)

Anticipated partner organization to include: European Cyber Security Group which would promote important collaboration as well as intersectoral exposure.

Describe briefly the international profile of the partner


Training that will be provided through the research project itself

Training that will be provided through the research project itself would include an important and already established nexus between the political sciences and cyber-security.

This would be manifest in a training package that would allow for the following for the student:

  • Examine patterns in evidence on Dark Internet and Deep Web (DIDW) and UK national security threats in terms of ideological, social and cultural dispositions and potentiality of hostile organization
    Training: Literature reviews - evidence of research on topics in terms of thematic keynotes. Online training and social media dissemination as deemed appropriate.
  • Explore how users perceive and mitigate risks of attacks, facilitation and perpetration in relation to cloud-based terrorism: focus group activities with FPUA and other identified users
    Training: Article writing for An article in Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence
  • Explore the use of social media and online cover channels to undermine UK national security or pose threat. The opportunity here is to explore the narrative and techniques people are using to psychologically entice, appeal and engage people in their cause. How do individuals go from reading about things online to then becoming involved in actions
    Online training, briefing notes and social media dissemination as deemed appropriate.
  • Identify indicators to detect DIDW  use for purposes of undermining national security, tools for risk assessment
    Training: DIDW search and find
  • Investigation of the Dark internet and Deep Web and the study of their effective use for extremists, use-cases such as: *Salafi Jihadists, motivators for violence or Hacktivism
    Training: Study report and experimental evidence outlining use-cases such as: Salafi Jihadists, motivators for violence or Hacktivism
  • Investigation of sensing and detection methods of highly obfuscated communications and web sites based on Dark Internet and Deep Web Technology
    Training on Proof-of-concept demonstrator for sensing and detection of obfuscated communications and deep web sites.
  • Explore technological, legal, and evidential barriers to enhancing analytical and investigative capabilities for enhancing judgement by stakeholders
    Training:  Workshop preparation and participation
  • Analyse the ethical issues raised by methods of harvesting intelligence and analysing Dark Internet and Deep Web technology.
  • Training: Short report writing: Short Report A: for users such as ngos, policy bodies and government on the distinctive challenges crime in the cloud presents for balancing privacy and security. Short Report B: Ways to address those challenges, following workshop activity.
  • Ongoing analysis of the ways in which tools being developed to detect national security threats in the cloud could themselves invade privacy, with this analysis identify original research gaps, feed back into development process.
    Training: Guidelines for possible intervention on how to prevent tools to detect and demonstrate national security threats in the cloud being used unethically and to counter privacy rights. Briefing reports and presentations for industry sector partners. 

Examples of additional training in non-research transferable skills

As above.

Expected dissemination of results: peer-reviewed journals, seminars, workshop and conferences at European/international level

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Dissemination of results would include: article in peer-reviewed journals such as Security Dialogue, Survival, or Terrorism and Political Violence or Journal of Cyber Conflict as well as shorter contributions to online content such as Cyber-Security Review (, and attendance at workshops and conference at a European/international level including: ISSA-organised conferences and workshops, or Cyber Conflict Studies Association (CCSA) conferences.

Expected impact activities

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

The impact activities would be co-located between two QUB GRIs: CSIT and Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace , Security and Justice and will include (i) a planned QUB impact showcase as part of national and international research outreach activities which the University is already engaged in on this area (ii) short articles for QPOL and others such as The Conversation, (iii) a Public lecture.