Hacktivism is on the rise, with prolific groups such as Anonymous making regular headlines.
Learn about hacktivism, how to get involved, and discover a list of high-profile acts of hacktivism.
What is Hacktivism?
Hacktivism is an umbrella term used to describe all acts of breaking into and subverting a secure computer system for social, political, or religious causes. The term ‘hacktivism’ is said to have been coined by the hacktivist group Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc).
It has become a popular way for protesters to spread their message and mobilize action globally. Tactics such as doxxing, digital defacement, and denial-of-service are tools hacktivists use to sabotage public and private organization systems in the name of activism.
Doxxing is the release of personal identifying information about an internet user. This could include full name, home address, email address, and even credit card details.
A Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack is a malicious attempt to make a website inoperable by overwhelming it with more internet traffic than it can handle to crash the website.
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Defacement involves changing the original appearance of a website. It is a form of online vandalism and can take place in different forms. For example, by splattering provocative pictures or texts all over the site.
Reasons For Hacktivism
There are myriad reasons for activists to turn to hacktivism to get their point across. Some of the most common motives include:
Exposing a government agenda that threatens democracy
Hacktivists provide the general public with access to data garnered from data breaches. Thereby, exposing everything contained in websites of governmental institutions, including classified documents.
Fighting against acts of terrorism and social injustice
Hacktivists shut down websites involved in funding criminal or terrorist institutions. Though this will not completely bring them down, it does succeed in crippling them.
Supporting free speech and availability of critical information
Hacktivists carry out attacks on government systems to lift restrictions on freedom of speech. They help the censored victims of oppressive regimes communicate with the outside world. Additionally, they also provide leaked sensitive information that might prove critical to the decision-making of protesting citizens.
Creating tools to help everyday internet users with anonymity
Hacktivists provide secure and anonymous networks to help users navigate the web without the fear of being tracked. Third-party organizations such as internet service providers or the government track people’s movement on the internet. Hacktivists spread software that prevents the spying on activists.
Acts of Hacktivism
Anonymous, one of the most notable hacktivist groups in the world, has carried out a number of attacks on both public and private institutions.
In 2011, Anonymous recruited Tunisian hackers for their #OpTunisia (Operation Tunisia) attack, staged in support of the 2010 Arab Spring Movement. They took down up to eight government websites using a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack.
Anonymous has also staged other attacks against governments such as #OpEgypt (Operation Egypt), #OpSyria (Operation Syria), and recently in Nigeria to support the #ENDSARS movement. The group succeeded in getting people to openly protest against the Filipino government by releasing a YouTube video in 2013. It also crashed 30 Filipino government websites.
In #OpDarkNet carried out also in 2011, they broke into child pornography websites, releasing over 1000 names of the users who regularly visited one of those sites.
Another group, called LulzSec, also carried out notable attacks. LulzSec is notorious for breaking into police servers and other government security sites.
LulzSec has hacked into other big websites such as Fox News and PlayStation Network. Through their attacks, they took several passwords and private user data, and even succeeded in taking some networks offline.
In 2016, WikiLeaks published some of the emails sent and received by members of the Democratic National Committee. Some of the leaked emails included those that belonged to the party’s presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton.
How to Become an Hacktivist
The spirit of hacktivism is to fight for the common good using the internet. However, most hacktivist acts are illegal so, you have to also understand the laws of your country.
One of the easiest approaches is by joining a group of hacktivists, provided you have the ability to reach out to them. Hacktivists typically work in a decentralized manner. You can reach out to one of the arms of the group through online hacker communities. However, these are often hard to find, for obvious reasons.
You can also be a lone hacktivist working to further a particular agenda that is close to your heart. But educate yourself about the potential legal ramifications before embarking on our hacktivist journey.