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Protesting In Cyberspace: Hacktivism

Since the genesis of civilization, there have been forms of protest and activism. So long as injustices persist, regardless of the time frame, people seem willing to speak out and strive for change. In the modern world, people have figured out new and innovative ways to get their message across to other people around the globe. This form of activism takes place in cyberspace, not at your local town hall. Although brand new in the mainstream understanding of activism, this new form of warfare against oppressors known as “hacktivism” has been around for over two decades and now has the potential to affect real, comprehensive change. 

In the late 1980s, groups of activists with incredible computer skills started to come together to use their skills in the political world. Initially, hacktivism took the form of viruses and worms. Early examples of hactivism include the notorious “Worms Against Nuclear Killers (WANK),” a computer worm that anti-nuclear activists in Australia unleashed into the networks of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the US Department of Energy in 1989 to protest the launch of a shuttle carrying radioactive plutonium.

In the advent of the Information Era, groups began using cyber-warfare against all sorts of organizations and governments. During the 1990s, groups started to use email flooding and “DDOS” strikes. “The Zippies” flooded UK government websites with slander about an upcoming bill that would outlaw public dancing. The term “hacktivism” was coined that same year by the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc), an organization which also gave birth to Hacktivismo, an international group of hackers and other protesters dedicated to the advancement of human rights. This group used custom-built software to show support for free speech and privacy.

By the turn of the century, hacking and computing had advanced astronomically. It had become a normal way of protest and activism. It accompanied conflicts and worldwide protests. The intelligence firm iDefense reported that during the early months of the second intifada that erupted between Israel and the Palestinians in September 2000, over 30 pro-Palestinian and 10 pro-Israeli hacktivists and hacktivist groups conducted cyber-attacks. The following year, after a mid-air collision between a US intelligence aircraft and a Chinese Navy jet on April 1, iDefense reported seeing over 1,400 web defacements from over 140 hacktivist groups, along with numerous DoS attacks. The web defacements by pro-Chinese hacktivists, including the Honker Union of China and China Eagle, vastly outnumbered those by pro-US hacktivists. Then later that year, the September 2001 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and the start of Operation Enduring Freedom gave birth to such groups as the Young Intelligent Hackers Against Terrorism, which aimed to stop the financing of terrorists, and a coalition of Pakistani hacker groups that called itself the Al-Qaeda Alliance Online.

Nowadays, Hacktivism is tied to every cause imaginable. Their tactics are incredibly complex and effective. New groups such as Anonymous connect remotely from all over the world and are able to disrupt the largest and most profitable corporations. Overall, most forms of it are illegal in most countries. However, because it is easy to use and to not be found using it, many people are happy to illegally make a statement. It challenges international law and offers an attractive means of protesting.

Nevertheless, hacktivism is certainly  here to stay and will likely only grow more lucrative and effective.



Jonathan Ulloa View All

Pace University Information Systems student.

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