Legalised Cybercrime?

As a combination of hacking and social activism, hacktivism can be perceived as the use of digital tools in pursuit of political ends (Mitwew 2012). The notions of hacktivism are cast throughout society with negative connotations and little understanding of hacker ethics. My personal opinion is that hacktivism shows just how fragile an underbelly most enterprises and governments have, as well as much of the security industry. Benkler’s (2009) article justifies this in the detailing of the revealing of the Collateral Murder, Afghanistan and Iraq in April-October 2010 through Wikileaks. Lately, however, the hacktivism term has been applied to protests against multinational organizations, governments, and even rural law enforcement agencies, and the tactics now include DoS attacks on sites, as well as leaks of confidential documents to the public.

Today’s hacktivism creates a high level of embarrassment that goes beyond corporate press releases about data breaches, or identity theft. When the information is released it can be very public and quite dangerous, not only to the institution being hacked, but, by collateral damage, to innocents. But what about the other side of the argument? Some politically motivated data breaches have inspired full-blown revolutions. In the spring of 2011, thousands of protestors took to the streets in the Middle East, rallying against their governments, some of which had been in power for decades. They were emboldened by, among other things, technology. For some, WikiLeaks and a decentralized online organization known as Anonymous created the environment that gave rise to the “Arab Spring” by posting secret government documents online.

In this sense, could hacktivism be perceived as ‘legalised cybercrime’? Could society draw a clear distinction between crimes committed strictly for money (identity theft, fraud, extortion, embezzlement, etc.) and crimes committed for the sake of theoretical anarchism, peer prestige, vigilantism, or laughs? Or should they be labelled as ‘materialistic crimes’ and ‘sociopathic crimes’? Either way, there is bound to be leakage.

Whether hacktivism is a crime may be debated. Opponents argue that hacktivism causes damage in a forum where there is already ample opportunity for non-disruptive free speech. Others insist that such an act is the equivalent of a protest and is therefore protected as a form of free speech. What ever the case, hacktivism has revealed just how poorly many companies handle the process of securing data, much of which belongs to consumers. I think consumers should be asking the companies that hold their data, ‘How well are you really protecting my info?’


Benkler, Y. (2011) ‘A free irresponsible press: Wikileaks and the battle over the soul of the networked fourth estate’, p. 1-33 [URL:].

Khatchadourian, R. (2010) ‘No Secrets: Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency’ The New Yorker, June 7. [URL:].

Mitew, T 2012, Counter Networks, DIGC202, Global Networks, University of Wollongong, delivered 17/09/2012.


5 thoughts on “Legalised Cybercrime?

  1. I’m torn on whether “Hacktivism” is a crime or not. Because like you mentioned, it has helped to inspire revolutions and some would say that the Government should freely share information to the public (although I’m not sure they should share some of that military stuff! Yikes). However, didn’t Wikileaks do what other journalists were too afraid too? Investigated the government and aired all their dirty secrets. Investigative journalists would kill each other for a story like that.

  2. I think hactivism is a crime but it’s also a necessary evil. Ideally it would only be used when it serves the public interest but unfortunately that’s not the world we live in. I think with any positive invention there is always going to be people using it for the wrong reasons. To me this debate is similar to the one about guns, yeah guns can protect and be used for good but there are going to be people who you use it to rob, kill and so on.

  3. You provide an interesting argument. My only criticism though is the term “legalized cybercrime” because I feel that notion of legality is strictly in regards to a governments sense of right and wrong. Cybercrime I don’t feel will ever be “legalized” in that sense, its moreso whether or not we as a community and networked society will accept hacktivism as morally acceptable or objectable.

  4. I like how you have included the consumers here and how hacktivism really effects those who invest their private details in a large organisation or corporation, which is then hacked. It’s scary to think my bank details could easily be hacked and released (not that much could be done with the $1.61 currently in my account). When looking at hacktivism in relation to the potential damage it can cause to us personally I think it can be framed as a crime. I think society doesn’t really have a problem with a large corporation or government organisation being targeted, however, when it comes to an individual being hit it becomes a different problem..

  5. I am both for and against hacktivism. I think that hacktivism is a great thing in regards to the fact that, like you said it has brought about revolutions and exposed the public to information which is in there interest to know. It enables the public to have a one over on large organisations and the Government, who use there power for wrong doings. However, I think when you look at hacktivism on an individual level whereby individuals are targeted e.g. fraud and theft, then it is at this point where i believe it is wrong. I guess the reason i think this, is because i believe that large organisations and Governments have so much power in society that it is in the publics interest to know that they are using there power for the right things, whereas when you look at hacking on an individual basis, it has no purpose, hackers would be abusing their power.

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