Being hacked is one of the things that we’re truly scared of. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced this before. Our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts have been compromised at one point or another. But we could recover. We’d just improve our security or start a whole new account. If our website was defaced by hackers, we fix the problem by, again, upgrading our security. And then we’d restore the design of our websites.
But that’s not easy for major companies and organizations. When they’re hacked, it can affect thousands, if not millions, of people. But, sometimes, they’re hacked by people who have distinct intentions. The hackers wanted to spread information that the masses have the right to know. These hackers are called hacktivists.
Hacktivism is when hackers are driven by socio-political beliefs break into the security network of companies and government entities. The hacktivist group, Cult of the Dead Cow (CdC) popularized the word.
There’s been an endless debate on hacktivism. People have been asking if it’s good or bad. Here’s an overview of that debate.
Hacktivism for Social Justice
Hacktivists use their skills in hacking to bring about social change. They believe that, by releasing information to the public, they can confront the company or organization that they hacked into. In doing so, they are forcing the hand of the company or organization to change their ways for the better.
An example is WikiLeaks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to releasing previously classified information to the public. In 2011, they released prisoner reports from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These reports showed how prisoners were treated in the facility. The Obama administration at that time strongly condemned the release of such sensitive information.
This act caused a divide among people all over the world. Some found these files to be enlightening about the justice system in the United States. On the other hand, some found that this act only caused unnecessary damage.
Hacktivism as a Crime
Despite the intentions of some hacktivists, many people strongly believe that hacking is a crime. Everyone has the right to privacy and that includes organizations and corporations. This is why the U.S. government created the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to target and prosecute hackers. This act covers the illegal publication of documents from private servers. It also includes doxing, which is the publication of personal or corporate information.
Edward Snowden is one of the most talked-about hacktivists that were targeted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Snowden was working for the National Security Agency (NSA). But then he became disillusioned by his work. He found that the information that the NSA was privy to needed to be made public. So he leaked classified information on the work of the NSA. He was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. But he was granted the right to asylum in Russia, where’s been staying since his crimes.
Despite the growing reliance on the internet and other forms of tech, hacktivism has been declining. Fewer people are invested in this form of activism. Instead, they took it to the streets, as seen by the various marches that’s been happening in the last few years.
In fact, Security Intelligence found that hacktivism declined by 95 percent since 2015. Yes, some hacktivist groups are still somewhat active. An example is Anonymous, which was responsible for 45 percent of hacking in the last few years. But the work of hacktivists is not as prominent as it was before.
It’s highly possible that the debate about the ethics of hacktivism may never be resolved. It proves that things aren’t always simply good or bad. Things aren’t black and white. And hacktivism may just be one of the many things that will always stay in the gray area.