Hacktivism Definition: What Is It and Why Has It Appeared?

Cyber-activism gained its fame with the spread of the internet. At first, it was doxing and DDoS attacks. In 1996, cyberactivism acquired a new form — hacktivism. Supporters of this movement began hacking computers for various political, social, religious, or “anarchic” reasons. So, the information war began, and continues to this day. 

The list of the most famous hackers of all time is here.

Adherents of hacktivism work worldwide and create new hacking tools for information warfare. However, hacktivism has, in most cases, led to destruction rather than real change. 

This article will talk in detail about hacktivism and consider its main examples.

What does hacktivism mean?

Hacktivism is a unique blend of the words “hacking” and “activism” that has emerged to describe when people use the internet to demonstrate for political or social reasons. These people are sometimes called Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). 

What is hacktivism

Throughout most of history, people have actively demonstrated one way or another against or for what they are passionately about. This may include picketing outside city hall offices, writing letters to the local newspaper editor in protest against upcoming policies, or organizing a sit-in at a university.

All these protests have something in common: they are geographically localized, with most people involved personally coming from one area.

Then along came the internet, and protests changed. Since it can connect people from all over the world regardless of location, demonstrating for or against a cause has become decidedly different.

Hacktivism and activism are linked. However, hacktivism differs in that it is done mainly in digital form. Hacktivists usually do not seek financial gain but instead, make some statement. Instead of civil disobedience, the method is digital destruction, using the internet as the most important fundamental tool for spreading their ideas worldwide.

Hacktivists use resources found on the internet — both legal and those that would be considered illegal — to search for essential messages, mainly around issues of politics and human rights.

It is worth noting that hacktivism is a form of nonviolent digital activism, which aims to achieve political, social, or religious justice. Hackers use tactics such as doxing, defacement, and denial-of-service to hack into the systems of government agencies or private organizations.

All these actions are performed for good purposes. Unlike ordinary hackers, these computer experts often work in groups, not alone. To preserve anonymity, these groups are usually a decentralized network of people worldwide.

What are the common types of hacktivism?

As the internet continues to evolve, hacktivists can use more resources to achieve their goals. Some of the most common tactics used in hacktivism include the following:

Doxing: The word “dox” is short for “documents,” and refers to the process of uncovering and publishing people’s personal information online on a website, forum, or another publicly accessible place. This may include full legal names, addresses, business addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, financial information, and more.

DDoS: Short for “distributed denial of service,” DDoS is one of the most common types of hacktivism simply because it is very effective. A DDoS attack is the coordinated use of many computers to transfer a huge amount of traffic to a website or an internet-connected device, with the ultimate goal of taking this site or device entirely offline. Hacktivists have successfully used this hacker traffic to destroy banking sites, online stores, etc.

Types of hacktivism

Find out more about DDoS attacks here.

Data breaches: We are probably all familiar with the idea of identity theft. This type of breach violates the privacy of personal identification information.

Vandalism/theft of online property: This is one of the most popular hacktivism actions — hacking the code into the back-end of the target website, with the intended effect of somehow disrupting the website’s message. This may include damage to the site itself or a violation of functionality so that users cannot access it.

This latter also applies to hacking social networks. Hacktivists gain access to their social media accounts and publish messages supporting their cause.

Since many of the targets have a wide range of online properties, the possibilities for hacktivists are quite open. Social media targets include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Public internet resources such as websites, corporate intranet, and email structures are also targets. In addition, services such as internet service providers, emergency services, and telephone services are also at risk from hacktivists.

What are some examples of hacktivism?

The rise of hacktivism will continue, especially when the tools to conduct a significant digital breach are so readily available. Here are some examples of hacktivism:

Protection from hacktivism
  • In 2016, hackers launched a cyberattack against the state of Michigan to draw attention to the Flint water crisis. In May, they targeted North Carolina government websites to protest a controversial state law that requires transgender people to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificates. And in July, they went to the Baton Rouge city site after the fatal police shooting of a black man.
  • The personal data of more than 1.3 million people in Montana have been breached and exposed by hackers through the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services systems.
  • Police computer systems in Ferguson, Missouri have been actively attacked by hacktivists who seek the personal identity of people involved in controversial police actions.
  • Rumors about the participation of foreigners in the U.S. presidential election of 2016 include the participation of a foreign government and individual hacktivist organizations that wanted to make a political statement. This includes WikiLeaks’ cache of Democratic National Committee emails hacked by anonymous hacktivists (presumed to be Russian).
  • Many hacktivists act individually to protest what they consider to be injustice, but for some, teaming up with an organization seems more reasonable to give them more resources. One of the most famous hacktivist organizations is a network simply called “Anonymous,” a group that has claimed responsibility for several of the more infamous hacktivist exploits in recent years.

How to protect yourself from hacktivism

Even though there will always be vulnerability to hackers, you can take precautions. The following are recommendations to help you stay safe from unwanted intrusions from an external source:

  • Use reliable virus protection and detection programs.
  • Monitor your online accounts: email, websites, social networks, file transfer sites, etc.

Read more about social media account protection here.

  • Be careful that none of your personal information is available on the internet.

Learn more about personal data on the internet here.

  • Update your systems and security programs regularly to protect against possible threats.

There is no completely reliable way to protect against a person or organization set up to carry out hacktivist activities. Still, it is wise to prepare to have a reliable defensive strategy as much as possible.


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