Contributed by George Mack, Content Marketing Manager, Check Point Software.
It you keep up-to-date with current events, then it is highly probable that you’re aware of at least one example of hacktivism.
Derived from the words ‘hack’ and ‘activism,’ hacktivism is a type of activism that involves the act of hacking to bring attention to a cause or to protest an issue – often for politically motivated purposes.
Hacktivism is often, but not always, directed at government or corporate targets that are seen as oppressive. Hacktivists’ methods may include data theft, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, website defacement, or the use of social media to spread awareness about a cause.
This article will explore five of the most influential examples of hacktivism, the motivations behind each one, and how they’ve had a lasting impact on the field of cyber security.
According to Check Point Research, at the start of the Russian-Ukranian war, Belarusian cyber groups opposed the Belarussian government and launched cyber attacks to hinder the progression of Russia’s troops.
Ukraine’s IT Army also mobilized to launch cyber attacks directed towards Russia while recruiting skilled volunteers around the world to operate under Ukraine’s directive. Their goals were to coordinate DDoS attacks against select Russian targets and to conduct more complicated cyber operations. For example, TeamOneFist, who joined the IT Army of Ukraine, targeted the city of Khanty-Mansiysk, in Russia, and damaged a natural gas power plant in addition to causing a blackout at their airport.
On the other side of the conflict, there are groups supporting the Russian narrative such as Xaknet, Killnet, From Russia with Love (FRwL), and more. These pro-Russian groups started focusing their attacks on anyone who opposed the Russian agenda, including the United States, Europe, and several countries from Asia. Major corporations who expressed support for Ukraine also became potential targets.
The cyber operations that were carried out during the Russian-Ukranian war have set a precedent for what future cyber warfare may look like between major world powers.
On January 2nd, cyber activist group Anonymous announced one of their most infamous campaigns, dubbed “Operation Tunisia.” By the middle of the month, protests had spread across North Africa. By the end of the month, a large number of Egyptians had congregated in Tahrir Square, demanding greater economic equality, government accountability, and political rights.
The Arab Spring had officially begun, and it was the first large-scale revolutionary movement to expressly occur due to digital age capabilities. The primary weapons used in this revolution consisted of information and internet-based resources. International hacktivists were quick to react, restoring government-suppressed websites and allowing citizens to access unfiltered information about current events. When servers went down, Anonymous and Telecomix set up alternative communications systems. Additionally, Anonymous launched a number of cyber attacks against the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, helping take down government websites using DDoS attacks.
LulzSec was a blackhat hacking group known for several high-profile cyber attacks, such as taking down the CIA website offline for a couple hours and compromising millions of user accounts from the PlayStation Network in 2011.
LulzSec’s attacks typically involved gaining access to confidential user information or defacing websites. Although LulzSec was not as politically driven as WikiLeaks or Anonymous, they still shared a similar sentiment around the freedom of information. One of their more politically motivated attacks was against the Arizona State Police in response to Arizona’s SB1070, the state’s controversial anti-illegal immigration law.
After the tragic murder of George Floyd, Anonymous spoke out against police corruption. This was not the first time the group had done so, as they had previously voiced outrage regarding similar cases of police brutality, including those related to the passings of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown. Anonymous posted a video on Twitter condemning the Minneapolis Police Department and calling for its disbandment. The video also contained a strong message that the group would not trust the department to deliver justice and would instead reveal any wrongdoings to the public.
Founded by Julian Assange in 2006, WikiLeaks is a whistle-blowing organization that specializes in the act of leaking confidential information. One of their most famous leaks was the release of over 90,000 documents about the Afghanistan War – considered one of the largest military leaks in United States history. WikiLeaks also went on to leak emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), revealing that key DNC staffers undermined Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign priority to the primary elections. On April 11th 2019, Assange was charged in a computer hacking conspiracy.
Hacktivism, in some cases, can be a powerful tool for bringing attention to causes and issues that are important to individuals, groups, and society as a whole. When government suppress freedom of speech, hacktivism is a tool that allows people to express their opinions and beliefs in a way that is arguably both creative and disruptive. While it can be used to shake up the status quo, hacktivism is not without drawbacks. Bad actors can spread malicious content, and innocent websites and networks can be caught in the crossfire. These examples indicate that hacktivism will continue to play a prominent role across the cyber threat landscape and that past hacktivism events serve as high-caliber teaching tools.
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