Hacking is a term that many are familiar with. But while it may be easy to group all hackers into one unsavory category, there are actually several different types of hackers, and not all of them are out to do damage to web sites or expose information for monetary gain. Hacktivists are one example of this.
What Hacktivists Do
The act of hacktivism is motivated by political or social reasons. A hacktivist breaks into computer systems in order to bring attention to a situation that they feel is important to a particular group of people or humanity in general.
Some activities a hacktivist may engage in could include the disruption of traffic to a site by launching a denial-of-service attack, or posting a message on a highly-visible website where many people will see it.
Is Hacktivism A Crime?
The above question has been in debate for some time. One side of the debate believes that hacktivism is equal to the act of protesting, which is a form of free speech, and so is protected under law. The other side maintains that hacktivism actually sullies the right to free speech with exploits such as the shutting down of web sites.
Two Popular Hacktivist Group Profiles
The Anonymous collective defines itself as a hacktivist group. Composed of many members around the world, Anonymous has actually been in existence for a number of years. But it wasn’t until 2008 that the group gained national attention with an attack on the Church of Scientology.
The church demanded that a video of Tom Cruise speaking about Scientology be removed from YouTube. But Anonymous disagreed with this, stating that urging a removal was a form of internet censorship, and began a multi-pronged attack on the church which included a number of pranks and hacks which caused the church to accuse the group of religious hate crimes.
Wikileaks, a whistleblower site, came under fire for publishing over 200,000 communications between members of the State Department. Soon after, sites which had processed user donations to the site, such as Paypal and MasterCard, stopped doing so. In response, the Anonymous collective accused them of giving in to government pressure, and then began DDOS attacks which resulted in significant slowdowns and taking some of the sites offline.
This year has seen several arrests of Anonymous members in a number of countries, including Turkey and Spain, which has only served to spark attacks by the group aimed at countries which they feel employ oppressive internet policies.
Lulz Security, also known as LulzSec also considered itself to be a hacktivist group whose exploits appeared to be less politically motivated and more concerned with the security claims made by companies who create and advertise devices and systems designed to protect corporations and individuals. However, this group doesn’t only target security companies.
Another difference between LulzSec and Anonymous appears to be the level of sophistication with regard to how its threats were communicated. LulzSec exploits usually included taunts and the spreading of rumors. Operating mainly via Twitter, which it used to announce new targets and post stolen data, the group had over 200,000 followers.
One example of a LulzSec exploit was a fifty day hacking spree it launched in June of 2011, after which it announced its group would be disbanding. Its victims included highly-visible companies like Sony, and made IT managers take note that their security was not as tight as they may have suspected. LulzSec leader Sabu said that the group was able to accomplish much in the way of exposing the state of security in the online environments of government, media and social companies.
Opinions are sure to remain divided on whether hacktivism is a benefit or a bane to society. But it cannot be denied that this type of hacker can cause us to think about the events occurring in our world, and about the level of our own security.
Guest author Elizabeth Brosuga is intrigued by the subject of hacktivism, and technology in general. She also spends the bulk of her time helping consumers learn about the internet providers available to them, and to locate the best online deals.