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The National Cybersecurity Institute conducted a case study entitled “Hactivist Cyber Breach Operations for Social Change.” In this case study, the NCI examined hactivism and the social implications of this cyberactivity. Before you examine the study, you must better understand hactivism and its role in modern cybersecurity.
What is Hactivism?
To make a judgment on the morality of hactivism, one must understand what it means. Hactivism, as defined by PC World, is when a hacker or group of hackers uses a cyberattack as a means to achieve a political outcome. The difference between traditional hacking and hactivism is that those involved with hactivism are usually not interested in a financial gain. The main goal is to release information that will cause a change in political beliefs or to make public data that will damage the reputation of an organization to which the hackers are opposed. Hactivists can be thought of as digital vigilantes.
A history of Hactivism
Computer Weekly wrote that one of the earliest hactivism events took place in 1999. A group called Hacktivismo was formed to promote the belief that freedom of information was part of the basic human rights. The group was responsible for developing some of the first software that could break through censors and give access to information that was previously blocked. The group later upgraded to attacks on the U.S. Department of Defense. In today’s cyber landscape, the group called Anonymous is the main frontrunner in hactivism. Because of their work, Time magazine even listed Anonymous as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012.
How is Hactivism relevant in modern society?
While political activists of the past formed picket lines and held rallies, the introduction of the digital era ushered in a new form of political activism. Most governments and large corporations store important data in digital formats now, so protestors and activists have gone digital to make their voices heard. They have trained themselves to infiltrate networks and information security systems to access this important data. Additionally, the Internet provides these hactivists with a wider outlet for their stolen information. They can make it public online, making it available to the roughly 3 billion people who use the Internet worldwide.
Is Hactivism good or bad?
The answer to this question is really a matter of perspective. On one side of the argument, hactivism gives a voice to people who may not have the means to communicate their political opinions in any other way. In countries where the government does not allow for free speech, hactivists can use this cyberactivity as a way to inspire change and democracy. Conversely, hactivists can also put a government’s people and employees at risk by releasing confidential information. For example, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released private information from thousands of classified documents, some hailed him as a proponent of information freedom while others condemned him for potentially endangering the U.S. and its government operations. Strong cases can be made for both sides of the argument, however, hactivism’s morality must be decided on a situation-to-situation basis.
Hactivism is the political rally and social protest of the future. It can give a voice to those who may not otherwise have one, but it can also put nations’ secure data at risk. Those who want to protect themselves from a hactivist infiltration or who want to engage in hactivism of their own, need to understand what it means and how it affects society.