What is hacktivism? The shortest possible definition: The use of technology to express dissent.
Unlike your usual, run-of-the-mill hacker, hacktivists are usually out to fight for a cause, provoke and challenge the status quo, uphold human rights around the world. Working from the comfort of their bedrooms or coffee shops they can deploy the tools of their trade to effect governments or organizations half way across the world. Like vigilantes of the Cyberworld they envision themselves as guardians and protectors who reach places we cannot, in order to disrupt, destroy or expose. They’ve targeted pedophiles, drug dealers, animal abusers and war criminals. They are fighting what they see as injustices in order to make the world a better place.
The only problem is their tactics are illegal and that basically makes them criminals.
Furthermore, what hacktivists might think is worth dissention and what you might think is worth dissention, could be considerably different. And only one of you has the power to say, shut down an electrical grid. Some experts consider hacktivists no better than cyber terrorists and they might be right to do so.
The history of hacktivism is as colourful as you think.
How do we differentiate between an act of cyber terrorism and social activism? For instance, in 2008 Los Angeles traffic engineers broke into the city’s signal system and deliberately snarled traffic as part of a labour dispute. Or in Israel in 2013 when a group of unknown hackers caused the lockdown of the Carmel Tunnels toll road bringing a major city artery to a close for two weeks.
Much of the time, hacktivists seek to disrupt the average person, the tax payer, in the hopes that the disturbance will move them to force changes in the government. Shutting down websites, crashing servers, these sorts of actions effect everyone and when the attacks are against government organizations, we pay for the clean-up. How far would someone with strong beliefs go to uphold their ideals?
With the rise of a more volatile political climate (Brexit, Trump, right-wing groups gaining footholds in Europe) there is the fear that hacktivist activity will increase. Unrest in the populous gives rise to dissent and for those for whom the computer is a weapon of choice, we may very well see hacktivist activity trickling down into our daily lives.
The Canadian Perspective
How has hacktivism reared its head in our own backyard?
January 2012 – European hacktivists target white supremacist groups Volksfront and Blood and Honour. Names and photos of 74 members, street addresses, emails and passwords were released. Academics lauded the effort calling it an opportunity to ‘piece together a more accurate picture of terms of the distribution of these types of racist groups across Canada.”
June 11th, 2015 – Anonymous targets Canadian Government to protest anti-terror bill overloading servers with a DDOS attacks. “Today, Anons around the world took a stage for your rights, “ a robotic voice track on a video posted to YouTube says. “We now ask that you follow suit. Stand for your rights, take to the streets in protest this 20th of June 2015. Disregard these laws which are unjust, even illegal.”
July 17th, 2015 – A British Columbia man, James Daniel McIntyre, a 48-year-old activist and member of Anonymous was shot dead by RCMP outside a BC Hydro public meeting. This resulted in a DDoS attack against the RCMP that didn’t really do very much. Furthermore, the whole tragedy seemed to create infighting among the Anonymous group who then dissolved as they couldn’t agree on how to deal with the shooting.
April 2016 – Halifax based Anonymous group launches DDoS attacks against Dalhousie University and affiliated student newspaper for what they saw as a lack of action taken against an alleged sexual assault that happened in a frat house in 2015. The group posted a video that identified the name of the alleged perpetrator, showed photos of him, as well as releasing details about his family, a move commonly referred to as Doxing.