A decade after ‘the year of the hacktivist’, online protests set to return

Many of us vaguely remember the word “hacktivism“from ten years ago. It was a serious time before ransomware attacks dominated current cybersecurity concerns, where certain hacking techniques were used to send political messages to government and business entities.

Hacktivism has since withdrew as a form of protest, in part because of the pursuit prominent hacktivists, sometimes with what seems to be disproportionate severe penalties. But with the pandemic going on restrict physical protests worldwide, and new invoices Being designed to curb offline protests, it looks like hacktivism is about to return.

My research on Hacktivism and Cybercrime helps place hacktivism in its historical context – from which we can understand how, where and why hackers could soon resort to digital protest again across the world.

Hacktivism may have reached its peak ten years ago, but it has been a hallmark of online activism since the early popularization internet. Large hacktivist groups, such as Electronic disturbance theater, the Electrohippies and Hacktivism, were already active at the end of the 1990s. At the time, they supported the Zapatista in Mexico, protested against the inequality of global wealth and reported security concerns in popular software.

Even traditional activist groups – such as Green peace and the German anti-racist collective No one is illegal – were known to use hacktivist protest tactics long before its global rise.

In fact, no one illegally carried out a “collective blockade” of the Lufthansa website in 2001 to demonstration airline cooperation with German government deportation policies. A Frankfurt Court of Appeal would eventually decide that this hacktivist activity amounted to free speech – not criminal activity – but this legal precedent was not followed by the courts elsewhere.

The height of hacktivism

Hacktivism began to gain worldwide attention when Anonymous – a loose collective of hackers, politicized internet users, trolls and pranksters – decided to focus on political issues. The collective targeted Church of Scientology for the censorship of online content in 2008, and mobilized to protect whistleblower sites such as WikiLeaks in 2010, among various others actions with national and international implications. Anonymous’s activities would eventually lead large cybersecurity companies to qualify 2011 as “year of the hacktivist”.

Soon hacktivist groups sprang up across the world. Anonymous itself had many national branches, and these groups contributed to common political struggles at the same time as they weighed on local uprisings. For example, Anonymous deleted dozens of Egyptian government websites in 2012 during the protests of the Arab Spring.

This explosion in hacktivist activity has not gone unpunished, despite hacktivists’ claim that online protest is as valid as an offline protest. Some hacktivists have violated cybercrime laws, like that of the UK Computer Misuse Act 1990, and various demonstrators were prosecuted and sentenced in Great Britain and United States.

Perhaps the most publicized lawsuit was that of the American internet prodigy Aaron Swartz, who had bypassed the university’s cybersecurity guarantees in a try to download and make public a database of academic articles. Swartz death by suicide as his trial nears, bringing US cybercrime laws and their aggressive application in question.

However, cybercrime laws do not intensified in the years that followed, forcing the hacktivists to retreat. But their tactics remain effective and, given that the pandemic has restricted our ability to conduct physical protests worldwide, hacktivism may soon be redeployed as an alternative means of expressing dissent in the post-COVID era.

Hacktivist tactics

Traditionally, hacktivists have tried to emulate offline forms of protest and civil disobedience, but in the online space. They used website degradations, often referred to as “internet graffitiTo scribble political messages on targeted websites. And denied service Attacks (DoS), designed to overwhelm a website with traffic in order to crash it, are also common. Hacktivists often call these sit-ins virtual.

Unlike graffiti on the Internet, which can be facilitated by a single skilled hacker, virtual sit-ins require massive participation. This makes these protests much more democratically legitimate and impactful – as well as the sharing of criminal responsibility among virtual protesters.

I underlined the positive aspects of these tactics in my research, praising how they bring citizen dissent into the online environment while globalizing important political causes. But virtual sit-ins also have financial implications for attacked organizations and systems. Meanwhile, some commentators have criticized hacktivism as a form of “void”slacktivism”Which, according to them, is not comparable to political consciousness and the resolution of street protests.

Although hacktivism consists in principle of promoting socially beneficial causes while minimizing damage, it can also become confused with a less justifiable vigilante logic. For example, anonymous members have in the past exposed the personal data of people such as police officers, which puts them and their families at risk. Meanwhile, the hacktivist group Lulzsec is known to target large organizations for the sake of the challenge, rather than for political purposes. To finish, nationalist hacktivists have historically been involved in cross-border hacker wars which in some cases have escalated into real-world violence.

The revival of hacktivism?

Regardless of these criticisms, one cannot help but think that in this new post-pandemic era, when we are all spending a lot more time online, these political tactics could once again become popular across the political spectrum. In fact, there has already been Activities which indicate that hacktivism may become a secondary tactic for groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who reconsidered his future tactics in light of the restrictions and preventive arrests.

Hacktivism has never completely disappeared. Anonymous did indeed reappear during the summer of 2020. Black lives matter protests, targeting police force websites with hacks. But we are still in a period of transition, with organized hacktivist efforts much less common than they were ten years ago.

Still, the scene looks set for a third wave of hacktivism. New protest movements are gradually gaining traction with the public, and hacktivist activity could provide a popular alternative to in-person civil disobedience at a time when many of us are still concerned about the transmission of COVID-19.

As environmental and anti-discrimination movements are growing internationally and their underlying goals unite citizens Globally, it will be fascinating to see if hacktivist tactics can seriously help galvanize change in an increasingly politicized world.The conversation

This article from Vasileios Karagiannopoulos, Reader in Cybercrime and Cybersecurity, University of Portsmouth, is reissued from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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