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Hacktivism: Definition, Examples, Threats & Solutions

Instructor: Brandon Bass

Brandon has a MS in systems engineering & a PhD in Cyber Security. He has taught at several universities and possesses 12 industry certifications.

Hacking is a threat that every computer, individual and organization faces. Hacktivism is a newer subset of the hacking culture. This lesson discusses what hacktivism is and provides examples to better understand this trend among the hacking culture.

What is Hacktivism?

Hacking is nothing new to the world of computing. Ever since computers were created, there has been someone testing and tweaking them to find ways to make them perform. However, hacktivism is something new. The term was first coined in 1994, thanks to a group known as the Cult of the Dead Cow or cDc, specifically by a group member known as 'Omega'. Essentially, hacktivism is the methodology to use hacking as a form of political or social activism. Hacktivism involves dissent against actions or organizations in the form of digital processes and\or digital mediums to push a political agenda. The utilization of technological hacks or civil disobedience through direct action against organizations by way of electronic means is another definition. Its most simple defining characteristic is activism that is destructive, malicious and undermining to an organization, Internet, technology or political party/platform.

Examples of Hacktivism

As hacktivism is a newer concept, is important to identify some of the larger incidents of hacktivism and identify reasons that these incidents took place. This will assist in helping organizations understand some of the impetus behind hacktivism and perhaps analyze methods that they can utilize to avoid becoming a victim of hacktivism.

Operation Tunisia

In 2011, the Ministry of Industry in Tunisia was attacked by the cyber group Anonymous. The cyber group even attacked the Tunisian stock exchange. The reason behind the attack was censorship and government attacks of anyone attempting to publish free speech through the website WikiLeaks. The attacks were retaliatory in nature and were comprised of several Distributed Denial of Service processes to knock government sites off-line. A DDoS attack is simply bombarding a legitimate website with so much data and request information it can no longer accept legitimate page requests. They also gained access to government websites and defaced them with letters outing the Tunisian government for oppression of speech and censorship.

OpVenezuela

In 2014, domestic uprisings in protest of Venezuelan government repression and censorship sparked an attack by the groups Anonymous, Lulzsec and Binary Guardians. This widespread campaign of DDoS attacks and government website defacing by these cyber actors was to protest the Maduro government. Furthermore, activists were able to gain access to the official Twitter account of President Maduro and posted tweets saying 'No se metan con los mejores, hacked by @LulzSecPeru' or 'Don't mess with the best.' The primary reasoning behind these hacks was directly related to the inability to air grievances and to political opposition against censorship and state violence.

OpOlympicHacking

Anonymous Brazil and ASO, acting as a hacker team, went after the Rio Olympic Games in August 2016. The protest was in response to the inordinate amount of funds the group felt were being spent on the Olympics, rather than meaningful purposes within Brazil itself. Again, coordinated DDoS attacks against certain targets, in conjunction with a series of information leaks on companies that assisted with funding the Olympic Games, were the primary attack vectors. National and local governments as well as sports organizations experienced DDoS and DoX or 'Dropping the box' attacks that leaked information and exposed sensitive data. Doxxing is the search for and publishing of private or identifying information about a particular individual or organization on the Internet, typically with malicious intent.

Fighting Hacktivism

Fighting hacktivism is a very difficult prospect. Firstly, many of the hacktivist organizations are only fighting oppression and misappropriation of funds, and promoting several humanitarian causes. If you look at the underlying prospects, these are social injustices that have long gone unanswered in many of these countries. In essence, it is a grassroots effort to try and gain political outcomes through antisocial methodologies and means. Furthermore, the groups have no central identity. They operate on electronic bulletin boards and other forums while posting their cryptic messages to social media to garner interest. This means that organizations will have to utilize defensive means internally to ensure that they don't fall victim to hacking activity.

Techniques for Mitigating DDoS Attacks

When a DDoS attack happens, it is important to have a response plan. Key elements of a plan include a full list of assets that can be viewed by individuals that can architect and affect change within the network. A team should be available that can respond to the attack and define and escalate procedures when the attack is noticed. In addition, there should be a list of internal and external contacts to be informed. This allows companies to strategize as to what should take place so that they can ensure that the reduction of service is limited and the organization can effectively maintain customer confidence.

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