The word “hacktivism” is not new and is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The practice of gaining unauthorized access to computer files or networks in order to propagate a social or political message.” Prior to this, way back in 1984, the American journalist Steven Levy wrote a book about hackers, defending them as “Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” Levy also identified what was to become known as the Hacker Ethic, which includes two fundamental maxims; first, that all information should be free, and second, that all authority should be mistrusted and decentralization should be promoted.
Well, we’ve come a long way since then, with the UK’s Daily Telegraph, for example, recently announcing that 2011 was the “Year of the Hacktivist,” when ostensibly politically motivated hacking of government and corporate web sites became fair game for groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec.
So is Hacktivism the work of committed defenders of Freedom of Speech, working on behalf of the masses and acting on our behalf by “sticking it to the man” by shutting down websites, breaking down firewalls, and promoting dissent in repressive regimes? Or is it little more than a form of cyber-terrorism by self-appointed, self-centered script kiddies bent on promoting their own viewpoints and happy to let thousands of innocent citizens become little more than collateral damage after they’ve revealed all their private details on the web just to show they can.
Of course, there are no black and white cases of Hacktivism, and even in the virtual world, one man’s griefer is another man’s protector, and the truth – if indeed that exists – clearly resides somewhere in-between.
And the need to be secure against being attacked, maligned, or damaged online provides a fertile marker for security companies, providing everything from simple firewall protection for the home web surfer to sophisticated corporate solutions for businesses and governments. Once again, one man’s disaster is another man’s profit center.
So the question is – where do you stand? Are hacktivists on the side of the angels or the devils? I’m pretty much on the side of the establishment, or what the hacktivists would call the establishment, because although they may speak the language of equality, freedom, and revolution, in truth, they use the tactics of dictators, vandals, and egotists in an attempt to bludgeon the rest of the world into accepting their points of view. Their simplistic messages that (a) business is bad, (b) the masses need protection, and (c) that they operate on some higher moral plane, simply won’t wash with me. Shutting down PayPal affects my freedom to buy and sell the things I want; shutting down Visa takes away my choice of how, and with whom, I want to do business; and threatening Facebook with closure because they believe it’s selling secrets makes them judge, jury, and executioner – and that, my friends, is called Vigilantism.
And what about the Hacktivist notion that all information should be free? All? Really? Really? If that’s true, why should Anonymous make such a big deal about Facebook allegedly sharing data? If all information is free, why shouldn’t they share it? Or do Hacktivists make a distinction between shareable and non-shareable data? And if that’s the case, who decides what should and shouldn’t be shared? I’m pretty sure I don’t want a bunch of self-appointed do-gooders making those decisions on my behalf.
There is no doubt that Hacktivists can cause disruption and whether a group has lofty humanitarian ideals or is in it “just for the lulz” makes no difference. In their recently released report, 2010 Threats Prediction, McAfee® Labs™ predict that Denial-of-Service attacks and personal data disclosures will grow, and that “protestors” will stop at nothing to obtain data from social networks or web servers to support their operations. And what people need to understand is that regardless of the rhetoric such groups may use to justify their actions, they are, in fact, un-elected, un-accountable, and as partisan as the targets from which they purport to be protecting us.
It’s instructive to read online posts where people leap to the defense of Hacktivists without spending any time to think through the implications of their support. If it’s OK to allow LulzSec to hack into the accounts of MasterCard and release details of the names and addresses of all their employees, then it’s OK to release information about anyone.
And that includes you!