What is a ‘Hacktivist’?


You may have come across the concept of ‘hacktivism’, but the term is often misunderstood by a lot of people. Hacktivism is a term that combines hack (as in a computer hacker) and activism. A ‘hacktivist’ is, therefore, someone who hacks into a computer system but with political or social motivations. A hacktivist may attack a website or a computer network to obtain information, steal money or generally cause disruption to raise awareness about their cause and/or send a message. This article explores some common motivations and targets of hacktivists as well as some of the most well-known hacktivists or hacktivism groups.

Hacktivism as a form of protest

While historically a hacker may have only ever accessed a computer or network to try and steal data or money or even just to cause chaos for the sake of it, hacking is increasingly being used as a tool to bring about social and political change. Hacktivism began as a form of protest back in the 1980s and 90s with the Cult of the Dead Cow.

Some hacktivists may seek to spread a message or an ideology, even if that ideology is anarchy. They may also steal data, money, or hold organizations to ransom via a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) in order to get their message across, but it is not usually done out of malice. Often a hacktivist will view themselves as a vigilante or a ‘Robin Hood’ type who is stealing from or causing problems for a villain in order to benefit society or a particular group.

However, a hacktivist could also be working with a motivation of revenge on an individual or organization which they perceive to have behaved unjustly or immorally. A hacktivist may work alone or as part of a small or large group that could be working from the same room or from different computers across the world.

Who is at risk from hacktivism?

Typically a hacktivist would direct their attack towards an international corporation or a government agency. However, a hacktivist could attack any group or individual who they believe ‘deserves’ the attack. This is why it is so important to ensure that computer networks have adequate security measures, including endpoint security from McAfee, which protects computers and devices from cybersecurity threats. Wondering ‘What is endpoint security?’ – be sure to research the topic.

Hacktivist groups

While there are many hacktivist groups and individuals operating with their own agendas, one of the most well-known hacktivist groups is known as ‘Anonymous.’ The group was formed in 2008 when the group released footage of the Church of Scientology on YouTube. After the Church requested the footage be taken down, Anonymous then attacked the Church’s website. The group has since continued to attack other groups via DDoS attacks. The group has members all over the world who hide their identities so that they cannot be identified even by other members. If they do appear in public, they will often wear a ‘Guy Fawkes’ mask which represents their resistance to authority.

The Anonymous group spawned another group called LuzSec, which attacked Fox.com, Sony Playstation Network and the CIA by stealing sensitive passwords and private user data.

WikiLeaks is another organization that began in 2006 in Iceland. It publishes news leaks and classified documents that are provided by anonymous sources to expose corruption and ‘wrongdoing’ by organizations and governments.