Hackers and Hacktivism- KU Conversation 6

By: Courtney Aaron

Good morning and welcome to our sixth KU Conversations post! This week’s topic is about hackers and hacktivism. For those of you who don’t know what hacktivism is we found an accurate description by the Oxford English Dictionary website. Hacktivism is defined as “The practice of gaining unauthorized access to computer files or networks in order to propagate a social or political message.” We are going to start our conversation by using an article from CQ Researcher (may require KU ID). This article gives an overview of the multiple topics we will be discussing including the changing nature of computer hacking, cybercrime, hacktivism, and hacker ethics.


Photo provided by Barn Images (Flickr)

There are many different kinds of hackers out in the world and their numbers are increasing as time goes on. Hackers have varying motivations as to why they learn their skills. Some do it for criminal reasons and others for social and political protests. Others may do it for reputation or money. This study from IEEE Computer Society Digital Library (may require KU ID) focuses on the motivations of hackers and sorts them into four different cultures: Clan Culture, Market Culture, Hierarchy Culture, and Adhocracy Culture (currently the most popular of the four). Each has an individual motive and attitude towards hacking. The study is based on the oldest running website for hackers called “Cult of the Dead Cow”, a place where hackers go to communicate with each other and share information. We also have an E-book from the KU library catalog written by Douglas Thomas called “Hacker Culture.” (Thomas, Douglas 1966-). The book focuses on hacker culture and subculture as well as how it’s changed throughout history. It also discusses both how hackers view themselves and how the public views hackers.

Hacktivism is a relatively new term and topic. Currently, the most highly regarded hacktivist group is Anonymous, a loosely connected group of hackers that use their skills to protest or promote social and political views. Their main goal is to promote academic freedom and prevent censorship. Here is an article from the Computer and Applied Science Complete database (may require KU ID) that talks about Anonymous and their involvement with the Ferguson issue.


Anonymous protesting ACTA in Munich- photo by Usien

It also gives some information about other companies Anonymous has targeted. We also have two articles from the New York Times about Anonymous. The first one is about how Anonymous is currently targeting ISIS after the Paris attacks. One of the ways they are doing this is by finding ISIS recruitment twitters and websites and then taking them down. They are also teaching other hackers how identify and take down recruitment websites. They are still refining this process and sometimes mistake journalist twitters for ISIS recruitment twitters, one of the weaknesses to Anonymous’ methods. Next we have a New York Times article that discusses both their and their multiple factions strengths and weaknesses.

Their main weaknesses is also the same as their strength, their anonymity. Since the members are unknown to the public and to each other it is hard for them to get caught for their actions. Unfortunately, there are hackers within the group that also commit crimes for their own gain instead of for the group’s political statements. Also if hackers within the group are caught doing illegal hacking for political statements they still run the risk of being caught. One unforeseen issue is that members who are arrested for their hacking protests can be used to track and help arrest other hackers within the group. This article from Reuters discusses how a hacker named Hector Xavier Monsegur from the Anonymous offshoot faction LulzSec was arrested for targeting private and government sector websites. After he was arrested he worked with prosecutors to help catch 5 other hackers within his group. This next article from Gale Virtual Reference Library (may require KU student login), explains that Monsegur continued to work for the FBI to prevent other hackers from hacking the government in exchange for reducing his sentence.

There are a lot of varying opinions about hacktivsm and hackers and how they should relate to the law. Monsegur isn’t the only hacker to switch sides and do work for cyber security. There are people who believe both good and bad hackers should be recruited and utilized by governments and computer security businesses. We have a TED Talk through Youtube by Misha Glenny explaining how hiring hackers can be the key to improving cyber security. There is also debate over whether hacktivists should be held legally accountable for their actions. We have an Academic Search Complete article (may require KU student login) that discusses  hacktivism and criminal liability. People also raise the question whether or not hacktivism should be support due to its use of criminal activity. We have a study also provided by Academic Search Complete discusses whether or not STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students are likely to support hacktivism. It also explains predictors as to which students would support hacktivism and how students’ perceptions of hacktivism affects their viewpoints.

The changing natures and abilities of hackers have caused major reevaluations of cybersecurity the past few years. We have a great article from CQ Researcher that gives an overview of cybersecurity and major topics that are being explored today. The article goes into both national and international cybercrime and the difficulties in apprehending cybercriminals. We also have an article from Web of Science (may require KU ID student login) that talks about cybercrime markets that now exist online. These online markets are used by cybercriminals to sell and to buy malicious software. The article also talks about the interactions between the buyers and the sellers.


Cybersecurity Awareness Month Interview with CCommand Sgt. Maj. Rodney Harris of U.S. Army Cyber Command- Photo by Gary Sheftick

Finally we have an article from IEEE Computer Social Digital Library (may require KU student login) that discusses the idea of hackers, hactivists, and cybermilitias being used as cyber warriors or used by politicians. It goes in-depth on how using hackers and hacktivists were advantageous since they could claimed that they acted on their own, avoiding government accountability. It also discusses how certain major cyber activities could be classified as war crimes.

There are a lot of varying opinions about hacktivists and hackers. Should hacktivism be tolerated even though hacking is illegal? Should hackers be hired and used for improving cybersecurity? Is it worth the risk to try? Feel free to post your opinions either here or in the comments section on the Rohrbach Library’s Facebook page!







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