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What is Hacktivism and Why is it Trending?

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Since its christening as hacktivism in 1996, cyber-activism has established a reputation for using disruptive means to support various causes. Hacktivism โ€” a blend of hacking and activism โ€” involves waging an information war by hacking computer systems for social, political, and even religious reasons.ย 

What Is Hacktivism?

Hacktivism is the intentional misuse of a computer system or network for social or political purposes. Hacktivism occurs when activists breach security systems to make a statement about their cause. Hacktivists typically target government bodies and corporate organizations, although drug dealers and terrorists can also become victims.ย 

How Does Hacktivism Work?

Hacktivism often aims to achieve one or more of the following goals:

  1. Break the government's arbitrary censorship rules

  2. Use social media to assist the oppressed

  3. Attack government websites that stifle protests

  4. Assist immigrants

  5. Assist local uprisings

How Hacktivism Has Disrupted the World

In 2010, WikiLeaks, a media company, released around 75,000 pages about the US war in Afghanistan. Dubbed as the "Afghan War Diary," it became the first of many high-profile strikes by a hacktivist group. The top-secret documents revealed information about the US airstrikes that injured civilians. The organization aimed to push the US government toward greater information freedom and transparency. WikiLeaks leaked the logs to media publishing houses, including the Guardian and the New York Times, to garner greater public support.

More recently, in the US, in the aftermath of George Floydโ€™s death in 2020, Anonymous โ€“ an international organization that orchestrates cyberattacks โ€“ sought to highlight the alleged wrongdoings of the Minneapolis Police Department. It launched a DDoS attack on the department's website, effectively shutting it down. Anonymous defaced other networks and downed more police department websites across the country to protest police brutality.

Anonymousโ€™ first high-profile target was the Church of Scientology, which suffered a DDoS strike for attempting to remove a video of Hollywood star Tom Cruise confirming his church connection. Anonymous construed this as censorship. The DDoS attacks triggered a wave of prank calls and black faxes against the church. Anonymous completed its strike by doxing the institution.

How is Hacktivism Involved in The Russia-Ukraine War?

As Russia launched cyberattacks on Ukraine, the Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykhailo Fedorov, encouraged the revival of hacktivism by urging disruptive cyberattacks on Moscow. Ukraine has solicited assistance from hacktivists to oppose Russia in any manner, including by targeting its crucial infrastructure, banks, and government websites. Ukraine has openly requested people to submit cybersecurity vulnerabilities to target Russian organizations.

Anonymous has taken action against Moscow by disrupting the website of the Russian oil major, Gazprom, as well as numerous government-affiliated websites in Russia and Belarus. Banks and telecommunications, too, are on the radar. They appear to have also hacked into Russian media outlets, changing homepages with anti-war slogans.

Is a Hacktivist the same as an Ethical Hacker?

An ethical hacker is either a corporation or an individual who finds and exposes potential problems on a computer system before a malicious hacker does. Upon discovery, the security gaps get plugged, thereby augmenting the safety of computers and networks. An ethical hacker is very different from a hacktivist in that an ethical hacker is employed by an organization to simulate an attack and discover vulnerabilities within a network, whereas a hacktivist carries out actual cyber attacks in support of a political cause.

Many individuals with exceptional cybersecurity skills choose to work as ethical hackers. They might work as penetration testers, security analysts, or vulnerability assessors. Often, organizations seeking to strengthen their security systems rely on the talents and knowledge of ethical hackers. Through penetration testing, several companies offer legal hacking services. Penetration testing is the process by which a corporation hires skilled hackers to examine their system and identify any flaws before malevolent hackers do.

Conclusion

Given the rise of hacktivism, organizations can take steps to prevent their systems from becoming a target. Regular penetration testing can significantly reduce the risk of a hacktivist strike. The experts at Packetlabs are a team of ethical hackers dedicated to finding flaws in your systems so that malicious hackers don't have the opportunity.

Contact Packetlabs today to learn more about our ethical hacker services.