Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse

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The Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse is a term for internet criminals, or the imagery of internet criminals.

Popular usage[edit]

A play on Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it refers to types of criminals who use the internet to facilitate crime and consequently jeopardize the rights of honest internet users. There does not appear to be an exact definition for who the Horsemen are, but they are usually described as terrorists, drug dealers, pedophiles, and organized crime. Other sources use slightly different descriptions but generally refer to the same types of criminals. The term was coined by Timothy C. May in 1988, who referred to them as "child pornographers, terrorists, drug dealers, etc."[1] when discussing the reasons for limited civilian use of cryptography tools. Among the most famous of these is in the Cypherpunk FAQ,[2] which states:

8.3.4. "How will privacy and anonymity be attacked?"


  • like so many other "computer hacker" items, as a tool for the "Four Horsemen": drug-dealers, money-launderers, terrorists, and pedophiles.

17.5.7. "What limits on the Net are being proposed?"

  • Newspapers are complaining about the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse:
    • terrorists, pedophiles, drug dealers, and money launderers

The term seems to be used less often in discussions about online criminal activity, but more often in discussions about the negative, or chilling effects such activity has had on regular users' daily experiences online. It is also used frequently to describe the political tactic "Think of the children". A message from the same mailing list states:[3]

How to get what you want in 4 easy stages:

  1. Have a target "thing" you wish to stop, yet lack any moral, or practical reasons for doing so?
  2. Pick a fear common to lots of people, something that will evoke a gut reaction: terrorists, pedophiles, serial killers.
  3. Scream loudly to the media that "thing" is being used by perpetrators. (Don't worry if this is true, or common to all other things, or less common with "thing" than with other long established systems—payphones, paper mail, private hotel rooms, lack of bugs in all houses etc.)
  4. Say that the only way to stop perpetrators is to close down "thing", or to regulate it to death, or to have laws forcing en masse tapability of all private communications on "thing". Don't worry if communicating on "thing" is a constitutionally protected right, if you have done a good job in choosing and publicising the horsemen in 2, no one will notice, they will be too busy clamouring for you to save them from the supposed evils.

The four supposed threats may be used all at once or individually, depending on the circumstances:[4]


In 2013, the director of the Safe Internet League (a voluntary censorship group in Russia) claimed that pedophiles, perverts, drug dealers “and other creeps”[5] were using the Tor anonymity software, as a reason why the software should be outlawed. This list did not mention terrorists or money-launderers directly, but did use the catch-all phrase "other creeps" that potentially includes them.

In 2015, the UK Conservative party claimed that their proposed “new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming gangs”,[6] echoing the "child pornographers, terrorists, drug dealers, etc." quote of Timothy C. May.

Later in 2015, Gamma Group released a statement claiming that their surveillance technology is used "against terrorist threats, drug cartels, other major organised crime, and paedophile rings."[7] as justification for concerns that it was being used to target opposition politicians and media groups in Uganda. With money-laundering treated as a major organised crime, this quote matches very closely with the list given in the Cypherpunk FAQ.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carey, Robert; Jacquelyn Burkell (August 2007). "Revisiting the Four Horsemen of the Infopocalypse: Representations of anonymity and the Internet in Canadian newspapers". First Monday. 12 (8).
  2. ^ May, Timothy C. (1994-09-10). "§8.3.4. How will privacy and anonymity be attacked?". Cypherpunk FAQ.
  3. ^ (1995-10-16). "The Four Horsemen". Archived from the original on 2006-10-29.
  4. ^ "ScrewMaster" (2008-08-19). "Re:The devil is in the details". Judge Rules Man Cannot Be Forced To Decrypt HD. Slashdot.
  5. ^ "Russia's FSB mulls ban on 'Tor' online anonymity network". Russia Today. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  6. ^ Gayle, Damien. "Right to privacy 'could be meaningless in 10 years under Tory and Labour plans'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  7. ^ Nick Hopkins; Jake Morris. "UK firm's surveillance kit 'used to crush Uganda opposition'". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-10-17.

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