Hacking and Hacktivism: What it is and How Can it Affect Us
Hacktivism. A word coined by the user called “Omega” in the Cult of the Dead Cows back in 1994. However, it was not until the past decade or so that the phrase had truly become of importance to the common societal person. Hacking and hacktivism has gained major traction throughout the past few years, and has given birth to a following over millions who urge their digital saviors to save them from Big Brother.
On the surface, hacktivism is the act of hacking for the greater good of society by regular standards. To some it is something as simple as exposing pedophiles. On the more extreme side of things, hacktivists aim for world reform. Working their utmost hardest to make world leaders bend to their will using any method that can be done via cyberspace with little regard for laws or the impact that their actions can have upon society. Many hacktivists have been known to hack government websites and blackmail world leaders in order to achieve giving power to the common man.
The Guy Fawkes mask has been used as a symbol for hacktivists worldwide as a symbol for their groups and to represent themselves in public where they do not want identifies to be known. The most popular usage of the mask is on Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) in order to spread their ideals of demilitarization, self-governing, and police brutality.
Hacktivism takes on many forms, however, what most people don’t realize that most of what they consider hackers practising “hacktivism” are merely flunkies who merely know how to only click a mouse. Tool kits for script kiddies (a tool kit is a pre-made device that can be used by anyone to hack a specific thing such as a password. Most popular right now being the Nmap tool kit, and a script kiddie is hacker slang for someone who cannot write malicious code), are the causes of the majority of hacks that are done around the world.
The term hackers have been around since the 1960’s when students from MIT got together as computer enthusiasts. However, genuine computer hackers wouldn’t make an emergence until the 1980’s to the 1990’s. Hacktivism appeared for the first time in the year of 1996 and since then has blown up into something that has the support of millions of people.
Hackers are often clumped into two different groups. White hat, and black hat hackers respectively. However, while hacktivists can be found from both factions, not all hackers are hacktivists and many don’t want to be. White hat hackers are considered the so called “white knights” of the hacking world. Most white hat hackers work at penetration testers for corporations, receiving contracts to test out firewalls or antivirus software for companies. White hat hackers aren’t considered idealists by the masses, although some are, and while many have opinions, it isn’t that common that a white hat hacker will have an opinion that goes against the grain of the majority of society. Most white hat hackers’ primary objective is to achieve the betterment of society and companies, although one may not agree with the other at times. The greatest certification a white hat can receive is the Certified Network Defense Architect.
On the other hand, you have black-hat hackers who purposely write malicious code and have a tendency to commit their actions upon personal interest, not necessarily in the interests of society. Black hat hackers surpass the law and operate on a level that goes beyond conventional authority. This bypasses normal security measures that would be held for common thieves, as theft is a crime, but the parameters held over the interwebs is much less secure than what a bank can have. Firewalls can be penetrated from locations far beyond the reach of authorities where extradition doesn’t exist, and as a result, black hat hackers pose a threat to banks and anyone else black-hat hackers may target as they can operate from literally anywhere. A good amount of black hat hackers are idealists and while some work for personal gain, there are those who hack simply in order to achieve their ideal society. Another misconception is that all hackers are recluses, this couldn’t be farther away from the truth. Of course there are those who stay shut in their own homes and work from behind a computer screen all day, however, the way many develop their opinions on society by being a part of society and seeing what may or may not be wrong with society from more than just the news.
Then in the centre there are those who breach laws but often for the good of society, are grey hat hackers. I haven’t touched upon grey hat hackers previously within this document as they’re less commonly referred to and many don’t consider them actual classifications of hackers although they lie in-between the spectrum for white and black. While a white hat hacker will get permission and tell you all the data that they receive from hacking your infrastructure. Black hat hackers will take all the information they receive illegally with no regard of telling the person they hacked of the flaws within their system. Grey hat hackers will often hack your system without permission, and then send an anonymous tip in order to notify about the flaw in the system. Grey hat hackers may pull off a few stunts just because they can, but wont strive to cause harm.
Moving onwards there are green hat hackers who are interested in learning code, often mocked by the hacking community for their lack of knowledge. Blue hats who are green hats become vindictive due to the bullying and become script kiddies to take down those who mocked them. And then finally red hat hackers who act like vigilantes and take down black hat hackers.
While hacking itself is considered unethical, there is a yearly event known as DEFCON where computer enthusiasts from all over the world come together for a weekend of learning about computer defense, hacking, amongst other computer related events. Winners of games at DEFCON get a black badge that allows them to attend DEFCON for free for the rest of their lives, an item that is worth potentially thousands of dollars.
Figure 2: Image of a Black Badge from DEFCON
Moving onwards towards hacktivism, the most well-known group of hacktivists currently would have to be Anonymous. Comprised of hackers of every category, Anonymous is a group of idealists running a large amount of operations to accomplish tasks and missions that are given by the group members. Anyone can start an operation once they put in a request and it goes through the channels. Operations generally include taking down pedophiles, sites which host child pornography, as well as other miscellaneous operations generally done for the betterment of society, one step at a time. Anonymous has gained a huge following via their actions, with over 5 million likes on their Facebook page, and over a million following their YouTube and Twitter, the outreach of a band of what are considered vigilantes of justice and the free world certainly have their following.
Anonymous communicates via social media much like how people do on a daily basis, Facebook groups and an application called Discord to converse and discuss operations and general questions on computers and even the time of day. It is by what they are implicated of doing that we forget that the members of Anonymous are normal people with normal lives, but they simply pursue their ideals in the best manner that they can, by being an active member of a movement that strives to make its impact upon the world one step at a time.
However, many of the investigations Anonymous does are similar to what authorities do as well, creating friction between the two as law enforcement and civil servants claim that the usage of proper channels in order to accomplish a task is better. This and all that Anonymous does is end up screwing up their investigation and result in botched police operations on a suspect due to Anonymous getting to them first. However, the argument is that while police require warrants and needs to go through legal channels in order to accomplish a task, Anonymous can simply do it on a whim and expose the person for what they’ve done.
In recent times, the group has lost a good amount of support that it initially had, with statements that members nowadays do little more than execute DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks onto people and servers, seeming not much more than a group of script kiddies who can’t achieve anything more. There are multiple groups that have done far more successful projects in the past few years. APT28, a Russian group, has executed high profiled cyber-attacks on NATO, Polish websites, and other high profile areas. Obviously in areas with no extradition.
Hacktivism, however, for activist groups that aim to supply the truth, work towards presenting the public with true hard facts that are indisputable. The flip side of this is that information can be fabricated and spun in a different direction in order to flip the script and get the ideal of the group across. Somewhat ironic as these hacktivist groups claim that the governments are out to enslave us while they may be doing the same to accomplish their own agenda.
In conclusion, hacktivism while not prevalent in day to day society, can grow to become a force to be reckoned with. There are undeniably both pros and cons to the movement and as a result there are identities that would rather that it not be a prospect at all. The one key aspect of hacktivism that should be noted is that it gives power to the common person, allowing anyone who wants to learn how to code or knows how to code to help the movement. Hackers may commit illegal actions, and not all may wish for the betterment of society, however, hacktivism is an ever growing movement that much be acknowledged and accepted that hacktivists may very well be the modern day Ghandi against online oppression and government surveillance.
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