From activism to web 'hacktivism'

The evolution of the internet has created a new model of interaction - and protest - threatening the world's largest corporations.

  • E-Mail
By  Justin Doo Published  May 29, 2008

The evolution of the internet has created a new model of human interaction, as an online presence is being created to complement traditional offline activities.

This has given rise to a disturbing new trend of activism and political protest which takes place in cyberspace. Hacktivism is a term coined from a combination of 'hacking' and 'activism'.

Unlike the traditional hacker whose motives are usually financial or anarchistic in nature, the hacktivist performs similar kinds of disruptive actions in order to draw attention to a political or social cause.

This particular display of hacktivism reinforced a worldwide realisation of the immediate threat of cyber attacks.

The emergence of ‘hacktivism' is already threatening the web security of the world's largest corporations.

In 2007, hacktivists in Estonia compromised government and corporate websites and launched so-called 'denial of service' attacks, making websites unavailable to intended users.

This particular display of hacktivism reinforced a worldwide realisation of the immediate threat of cyber attacks and the potentially devastating impact they could have on any organisation's IT system.

TrendLabs, Trend Micro's threat research division, documented occurrences of hacktivism during the recent social and political unrest in China where hacktivists unsuccessfully launched a ‘DOS' attack on CNN as a protest against coverage they deemed as 'pro-Tibet'.

Though no proof was established regarding the connection between the anti-CNN movement and the supposed hacking incident, it is believed that the online attacks supposedly go hand-in-hand with street protests, creating a synchronised protest in the real and digital worlds.

More recently, it was reported that the website of a UAE-based newspaper was hacked into by Iranian nationalists who replaced the main page of the website with their own message.

The reality is that, like offline activists, hacktivists would usually go a long way to promote a social or political cause with little or no regard for the consequences of their actions.

In most cases, such illegal actions lead to large-scale economic losses, as well as severely compromised public data and safety.

Traditional hackers and the general threat levels to internet security in the Middle East are being driven by the rapid growth of internet penetration in the region.

Cybercrimes like phishing - where people attempt to fraudulently acquire information, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as trustworthy sources - are on the rise.

However, the IT security industry is continually being challenged. As hackers come up with new measures to beat the security status quo, developers of IT security technology have to work twice as hard.

This is necessary not only to counter the threat from hackers but also to pre-empt their next move.

It is therefore hard to draw the line between long-term winners and losers in the battlefield of internet security as the bar is recurrently being raised by both parties. As new attacks are conceived, new IT defences need to be arranged.

As for users of the internet, the only way to win in the long-term fight against the developers of such attacks, is to keep winning in the short-term.

This increasing threat requires staying abreast with the latest attacks and continually evolving with future trends and technology in IT security.

Justin Doo is managing director, Trend Micro Middle East and North Africa.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code