As a term, hacktivism has become prevalent recently and describes individuals or groups who plan to affect political change as well as damage their ideological opponents. The prominent incidents in this space are a group of hackers who revealed the email addresses of thousands of subscribers to a newsletter that supports Isis or threats to take down the president of US.

1. Who are hacktivists?

First defined by Omega, a retro hacking group member of Cult of the Dead Cow, hacktivism was actually defined as the use of computer hacking in expressing sociological or political beliefs. The term’s meaning was loose and might span passive actions like expressing ideas to malicious attacks that target ideological opponents.

Typically, hacktivists are individuals or can be groups of hacktivists that run in coordinated efforts like LulzSec or Anonymous. Most of the works of hacktivists are anonymous.

Hacktivists use the same techniques and tools as hackers. However, they do it to disrupt services and make everyone aware of a social or political cause. For instance, hacktivists could leave a message on the website’s homepage that gets lots of traffic or embodies point-of-view what’s being opposed. Oftentimes, hacktivists use DoS or denial-of-service attacks to disrupt traffic to a certain website.

Color photo of an anonymous hacker, used to illustrate the meaning of hacktivism.
Most of the works of hacktivists are anonymous. | Photo credit: Pixabay
1.1. Hacktivism – Is It Legal?

Hacktivism’s legality is still a debate. Even if in some countries peaceful protect is considered as legal, DDoS attacks can be considered as a kind of federal crime in the US and such attacks are not legal in other places such as Australia, United Kingdom, and European Union.

Many opponents argue that hacktivism may cause damage in a form where there’s a chance for a non-disruptive free speech. Some insist that an act is a protest’s equivalent and protected as a kind of free speech. More often than not, hacktivists consider their activities a type of civil disobedience, which means they’re breaking the law to further the protests.

1.2. Some Hacktivism Events You Should Know

There have been some cases of hacktivism over the past several years and these include the following:

  • In 2009, during the Iranian elections, a website was set up by Anonymous to disseminate information from and to Iran.
  • In 2011, during Arab Spring, different hacktivist groups were found to have an involvement in various supporting protests. Telecomix is the group that provided technical support to the protesters, which include setting up the dial-up internet connections after the government of Egypt shut down the access to the internet in the whole country. SayNow, Google and Twitter started the movement called #Speak2Tweet that provided communication for Egyptians.
  • In 2013, Million Mask March was launched and today, it’s a yearly event. Anonymous and some of its supporters march on the 5th of November wearing the signature masks. Usually, marches happen in London and Washington DC.
  • In 2014, GOP or Guardians of Peace hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment and they collected about 100TB company information. This includes the personal information of employees and unreleased movies.
  • In 2016, the cyberattack of DYN affected some major websites, which include Reddit, Twitter, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Both New World Hackers and Anonymous claimed the responsibility for the said attack and stated that it’s in retaliation to London embassy of Ecuador shutting down access on internet for Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who was held there.
Color photo of the world map connected with internet, used to illustrate the global impact of hacktivism and cyber warfare.
The weapons used for cyber warfare are similar to the ones used in various criminal attacks. | Photo credit: Pixabay
2. What is Cyber Warfare and Its Purpose

Cyber warfare basically refers to the use of the technology to launch attacks on citizens, governments, and nations, which cause harm to warfare using weaponry. At present, there hasn’t been a cyber warfare with declared antagonists. But, there are some incidents that caused serious disruptions to the infrastructure of the countries that are suspected to be carried out by another state.

Cyber warfare is the use of the computer technology for disrupting the activities of organizations or a certain state, particularly the deliberate attacking of the information systems for military or strategic purposes.

2.1. Cyber Warfare Weapons

The concern with cyber warfare is that it’s difficult to work out who launched the attack at the first place. In some cases, no one would claim responsibility for attacks and while it’s possible to speculate based on geopolitical situation, there won’t be a solid answer, especially as some states would find it much easier to cover tracks than people.

In some, hacking collectives can easily take responsibility. However, while it is frequently suspected as state sponsored attackers, the strength of the direct links with antagonistic state may be difficult to prove.

The weapons used for cyber warfare are similar to the ones used in various criminal attacks. There are botnets prepared to launch DDoS attacks, which may cause widespread disruption to crucial services or act as the resource diverting smokescreen for some activities on the network.

Spear phishing and social engineering techniques are also weaponized to introduce attackers to the adversary’s system. Insider threats are a real weapon to the armory of cyber warfare with a mole that can introduce a threat directly to network or exfiltrate secret or highly sensitive material. Here is a simple YouTube explaining video for the basics of cyber warfare:

2.2. Hacktivism and Cyber Warfare – Are These Two Connected?

Hacktivism that is politically motivated involves subversive use of computer networks and computers to promote agenda and may extend to attacks, virtual sabotage, and theft that might be considered as cyber warfare or mistaken for it.

Basically, hacktivists use software tools and knowledge to gain access to computer systems they want to damage or manipulate not to gain materials or to cause any widespread destruction, but to make everyone of their well-publicized disruptions of particular targets.

Anonymous and some hacktivist groups are frequently portrayed in the media as wreaking havoc through hacking websites, cyber-terrorists, threatening attacks after their demands aren’t met, and posting sensitive information regarding their victims. Nevertheless, hacktivism is actually more than that since they’re politically motivated to change the world through using fundamentalism. Groups including Anonymous have divided opinions when it comes to their methods.

Hacktivism and cyber warfare are somewhat connected, but these are still two different terms and you must know their differences. Want to know more about hackers and several cyber threats? We have some great content about both of them, so feel free to look around our website! 🙂

Hacktivism and Cyber Warfare – what are the differences?

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