Hacktivism or hactivism (a portmanteau of hack and activism) is the subversive use of computers and computer networks to promote a political agenda. With roots in hacker culture and hacker ethics, its ends are often related to the free speech, human rights, or freedom of information movements.
The term was coined in 1994 by a Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) member known as "Omega" in an e-mail to the group. Due to the variety of meanings of its root words, hacktivism is sometimes ambiguous and there exists significant disagreement over the kinds of activities and purposes it encompasses. Some definitions include acts of cyberterrorism while others simply reaffirm the use of technological hacking to affect social change.
Hacktivist activities span many political ideals and issues. Freenet, a peer-to-peer platform for censorship-resistant communication, is a prime example of translating political thought (anybody should be able to speak freely) into code.
"Hacktivism" is a controversial term with several meanings. The word was coined to characterize electronic direct action as working toward social change by combining programming skills with critical thinking. But just as hack can sometimes mean cyber crime, hacktivism can be used to mean activism that is malicious, destructive, and undermining the security of the Internet as a technical, economic, and political platform.
Depending on who is using the term, hacktivism can be a politically motivated technology hack, a constructive form of anarchic civil disobedience, or an undefined anti-systemic gesture. It can signal anticapitalist or political protest; it can denote anti-spam activists, security experts, or open source advocates.
Some people[who?] describing themselves as hacktivists have taken to defacing websites for political reasons, such as attacking and defacing government websites as well as web sites of groups who oppose their ideology. Others, such as Oxblood Ruffin (the "foreign affairs minister" of Cult of the Dead Cow and Hacktivismo), have argued forcefully against definitions of hacktivism that include web defacements or denial-of-service attacks.
While some self-described hacktivists[who?] have engaged in DoS attacks, critics suggest[who?] that DoS attacks are an attack on free speech and that they have unintended consequences. DoS attacks waste resources and they can lead to a "DoS war" that nobody will win. In 2006, Blue Security attempted to automate a DoS attack against spammers; this led to a massive DoS attack against Blue Security which knocked them, their old ISP and their DNS provider off the internet, destroying their business.
Following denial-of-service attacks by Anonymous on multiple sites, in reprisal for the apparent suppression of Wikileaks, John Perry Barlow, a founding member of the EFF, said "I support freedom of expression, no matter whose, so I oppose DDoS attacks regardless of their target... they're the poison gas of cyberspace...". On the other hand, Jay Leiderman, an attorney for many hacktivists, argues that DDoS can be a legitimate form of protest speech in situations that are reasonably limited in time, place and manner.
In order to carry out their operations, hacktivists might create new tools; or integrate or use a variety of software tools readily available on the Internet. One class of hacktivist activities includes increasing the accessibility of others to take politically motivated action online.
- Code: Software and websites can achieve political purposes. For example, the encryption software PGP can be used to secure communications; PGP's author, Phil Zimmermann said he distributed it first to the peace movement. Jim Warren suggests PGP's wide dissemination was in response to Senate Bill 266, authored by Senators Biden and DeConcini, which demanded that "...communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications...". WikiLeaks is an example of a politically motivated website: it seeks to "keep governments open".
- Website Mirroring: is used as a circumvention tool to bypass censorship blocks on websites. It is a technique that copies the content of a censored website and posts it to other domains and subdomains that are not censored.
- Geo-bombing: a technique in which netizens add a geo-tag while editing YouTube videos so that the location of the video can be displayed in Google Earth.
- Anonymous blogging: a method of speaking out to a wide audience about human rights issues, government oppression, etc. that utilizes various web tools such as free and/or disposable email accounts, IP masking, and blogging software to preserve a high level of anonymity.
- RECAP is software that was written to 'liberate US case law' and make it freely available online. The software project takes the form of distributed document collection and archival.
Notable hacktivist events
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The earliest known instance of hacktivism as documented by Julian Assange is as follows: "Hacktivism is at least as old as October 1989 when DOE, HEPNET and SPAN (NASA) connected VMS machines world wide were penetrated by the anti-nuclear WANK worm."
- During the 2009 Iranian election protests, Anonymous played a role in disseminating information to and from Iran by setting up the website Anonymous Iran; they also released a video manifesto to the Iranian government.
- August 24, 2009, New Hacktivism: From Electronic Civil Disobedience to Mixed Reality Performance workshop at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics led by Micha Cárdenas in Bogotá, Colombia.
- Google worked with engineers from SayNow and Twitter to provide communications for the Egyptian people in response to the government sanctioned internet blackout during the 2011 protests. The result, Speak To Tweet, was a service in which voicemail left by phone was then tweeted via Twitter with a link to the voice message on Google's SayNow.
- During the Egyptian internet black out, January 28 – February 2, 2011, Telecomix provided dial up services, and technical support for the Egyptian people.
- Project Chanology
- October 2016 Dyn cyberattack
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Perhaps the most prolific and well known hacktivist group, Anonymous has been prominent and prevalent in many major online hacks over the past decade. Anonymous originated on the forums of 4chan during 2003, but didn't rise to prominence until 2008 when they directly attacked the Church of Scientology in a massive DoS attack. Since then, Anonymous has participated in a great number of online projects such as Operation: Payback and Operation: Safe Winter. However, while a great number of their projects have been for a charitable cause, they have still gained notoriety from the media due to the nature of their work mostly consisting of illegal hacking.
Media hacking refers to the usage of various electronic media in an innovative or otherwise abnormal fashion for the purpose of conveying a message to as large a number of people as possible, primarily achieved via the World Wide Web. A popular and effective means of media hacking is posting on a blog, as one is usually controlled by one or more independent individuals, uninfluenced by outside parties. The concept of social bookmarking, as well as Web-based Internet forums, may cause such a message to be seen by users of other sites as well, increasing its total reach.
Media hacking is commonly employed for political purposes, by both political parties and political dissidents. A good example of this is the 2008 US Election, in which both the Democratic and Republican parties used a wide variety of different media in order to convey relevant messages to an increasingly Internet-oriented audience. At the same time, political dissidents used blogs and other social media like Twitter in order to reply on an individual basis to the Presidential candidates. In particular, sites like Twitter are proving important means in gauging popular support for the candidates, though the site is often used for dissident purposes rather than a show of positive support.
Mobile technology has also become subject to media hacking for political purposes. SMS has been widely used by political dissidents as a means of quickly and effectively organising smart mobs for political action. This has been most effective in the Philippines, where SMS media hacking has twice had a significant impact on whether or not the country's Presidents are elected or removed from office.
Reality hacking is any phenomenon that emerges from the nonviolent use of illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools in pursuit of politically, socially, or culturally subversive ends. These tools include website defacements, URL redirections, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web-site parodies, virtual sit-ins, and virtual sabotage.
Art movements such as Fluxus and Happenings in the 1970s created a climate of receptibility in regard to loose-knit organizations and group activities where spontaneity, a return to primitivist behavior, and an ethics where activities and socially engaged art practices became tantamount to aesthetic concerns.[clarification needed]
The conflation of these two histories in the mid-to-late 1990s resulted in cross-overs between virtual sit-ins, electronic civil disobedience, denial-of-service attacks, as well as mass protests in relation to groups like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The rise of collectivies, net.art groups, and those concerned with the fluid interchange of technology and real life (often from an environmental concern) gave birth to the practice of "reality hacking".
Reality hacking relies on tweaking the everyday communications most easily available to individuals with the purpose of awakening the political and community conscience of the larger population. The term first came into use among New York and San Francisco artists, but has since been adopted by a school of political activists centered around culture jamming.
The 1999 science fiction-action film The Matrix, among others, popularized the simulation hypothesis — the suggestion that reality is in fact a simulation of which those affected by the simulants are generally unaware. In this context, "reality hacking" is reading and understanding the code which represents the activity of the simulated reality environment (such as Matrix digital rain) and also modifying it in order to bend the laws of physics or otherwise modify the simulated reality.
Reality hacking as a mystical practice is explored in the Gothic-Punk aesthetics-inspired White Wolf urban fantasy role-playing game Mage: The Ascension. In this game, the Reality Coders (also known as Reality Hackers or Reality Crackers) are a faction within the Virtual Adepts, a secret society of mages whose magick revolves around digital technology. They are dedicated to bringing the benefits of cyberspace to real space. To do this, they had to identify, for lack of a better term, the "source code" that allows our Universe to function. And that is what they have been doing ever since. Coders infiltrated a number of levels of society in order to gather the greatest compilation of knowledge ever seen. One of the Coders' more overt agendas is to acclimate the masses to the world that is to come. They spread Virtual Adept ideas through video games and a whole spate of "reality shows" that mimic virtual reality far more than "real" reality. The Reality Coders consider themselves the future of the Virtual Adepts, creating a world in the image of visionaries like Grant Morrison or Terence McKenna.
- Culture jamming
- Electronic civil disobedience
- Hacker culture
- Hacker ethic
- Internet activism
- Open-source governance
- Patriotic hacking
- Tactical media
- 1984 Network Liberty Alliance
- Chaos Computer Club
- Cicada 3301
- 2600: The Hacker Quarterly
- Citizen Lab
- Project Chanology
- Script kiddie
- Mr. Robot (TV series)
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- Hacktivism and Politically Motivated Computer Crime History, types of activity and cases studies