What is Hacktivism?
Hacktivism, a portmanteau of “hacking” and “activism”, refers to the misuse of a device or the internet, primarily through the hacking of unauthorized networks, with the purpose of questioning, provoking, or challenging governments, organizations, companies, or individuals that they may view as unjust or as obstructions in the way of their particular cause. Hacktivists generally are not motivated by financial gain, but instead consider themselves to be acting altruistically for the public good as they aim to draw public attention to their cause that will prompt change. In order to prompt change, hacktivists often launch cyberattacks aimed at exposing and correcting perceived injustices. The nature of perceived injustices may be:
Political. Politically motivated hacktivism seeks to promote a political agenda.
Social. Socially motivated hacktivism aims to expose social injustices such as censorship and human rights violations.
Religious. Religiously motivated hacktivism may aim to discredit or encourage certain religious beliefs.
Hacktivist cyberattack methods vary according to their objectives. Types of hacktivism include:
Geo-bombing. Geo-bombing exposes the Google Earth location where YouTube videos are taken, which may reveal previously undisclosed locations where prisoners are being detained or perceived injustices are taking place.
Denial of service (DoS) or Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS). Malicious attempts to disrupt the normal traffic of a targeted server, service, or network by overwhelming the target or its surrounding infrastructure with a flood of internet traffic.
Virtual sit-ins. Similar to a DoS or DDoS cyberattack, individual users repeatedly load web pages, overwhelming them and causing them to crash.
Leaks/doxing. A source or person shares classified intelligence with hacktivists who share the information publicly.
Anonymous blogging. A hacktivist blogs under an anonymous name, often to protect a whistleblower.
RECAP. RECAP is a software that provide free access to documents on the United State’s Public Access to Court Records (PACER).
Website defacement. A website defacement cyberattack involves a cyberattacker defacing a website by changing its appearance or content, often with the objective of embarrassing their target or promoting alternative views.
Website redirects. A website redirect changes the address of a website so that visitors are redirected to a website that supports the hacktivist’s agenda.
Website mirroring. Hacktivists copy a censored website and post it with a modified URL to promote freedom of information.
Some of the steps that can be taken to avoid a hacktivist cyberattack include monitoring social networks, maintaining clear messaging standards, performing regular auditing of monitoring systems, implementing incident response platforms, and implementing two-factor authentication for log-in websites.
1 Stouffer, 2021, “Hacktivism: An overview plus high-profile groups and examples”