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: http://www.benkler.org/Benkler_Wikileaks_current.pdf].
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.