The term Hacktivism was coined in 1994 and was used to mean direct action for social change through the online world, but the phrase has come to be used in so many circumstances that its meaning has become ambiguous. 

Some people stick to the standard definition of social change by safe and legal means but others even include cyberterrorism.

Hacktivism can be a politically motivated online action, anarchic civil disobedience or anti-establishment activities.  It can also be used to mean cyber experts, anti-hackers or the fightback against online fraudsters.

 Hacktivist Tools

A hacktivist uses the same online tools and techniques as a hacker, but to further their cause rather than causing havoc or making money.   

Defacing websites and online services is a typical method used by hacktivists and as organisational websites become  increasingly important , this kind of attack becomes potentially more effective and a successful hack more damaging to their reputation.

Denial-of-service attack is a commonly used method to cause short term problems on a website. This is achieved by using large numbers of computers constantly sending request to the target website until it crashes through overload. This is similar in the real world to sending thousands of people to a local supermarket to mill around, take items off the shelves into their baskets, put the items back and just carry on filling up the place so real customers cannot get service and give up.

Notable Hacktivist Events

1.       In 1990, the Hong Kong Blondes helped Chinese citizens get access to blocked websites by targeting the Chinese computer networks.

2.       In 1996, the title of the United States Department of Justice's homepage was changed to "Department of Injustice".

3.       In December 1998, a hacktivist group from the US called Legions of the Underground declared a cyberwar against Iraq and China and planned on disabling internet access in retaliation for the countries' human rights abuses.

4.       During the 2009 Iranian election protests, Anonymous played a role in disseminating information to and from Iran by setting up the website Anonymous Iran and they also released a video manifesto to the Iranian government.

5.       During the Egyptian Internet black out, January 28 – February 2, 2011, Telecomix provided dial up services, and technical support for the Egyptian people. Telecomix released a video stating their support of the Egyptian people, describing their efforts to provide dial-up connections, and offering methods to avoid internet filters and government surveillance.

 6.       Google worked with engineers from SayNow and Twitter to provide communications for the Egyptian people in response to the government sanctioned Internet blackout during the 2011 protests. The result, Speak To Tweet, was a service in which voicemail left by phone was then tweeted via Twitter with a link to the voice message on Google's SayNow.

Hactivist Group - Anonymous

In 2013, to accompany the Million Mask March, Anonymous in the Philippines crashed 30 government websites and posted a YouTube video to congregate people in front of the parliament house on November 5 to demonstrate their disdain toward the Filipino government.

Anonymous rose to prominence in 2008 when they directly attacked the Church of Scientology in a massive Denial Of Service attack. Since then, Anonymous has participated in many online projects such as Operation: Payback and Operation: Safe Winter. However, while a great number of their projects have been for a charitable cause, they have still gained notoriety from the media for illegal hacking.

Following the Paris terror attacks in 2015, Anonymous posted a video declaring war on ISIS, the terror group that claimed responsibility for the attacks. Anonymous identified several Twitter accounts associated with the movement in order to stop the distribution of ISIS propaganda. However, Anonymous fell under heavy criticism when Twitter issued a statement calling the lists Anonymous had compiled "wildly inaccurate," as it contained accounts of journalists and academics rather than members of ISIS.

Hacktivist Group - LulzSec

On June 3, 2011, LulzSec took down a website of the FBI.  That week, the FBI was able to track the leader of LulzSec, Hector Xavier Monsegur.  It is claimed that the former leader of LulzSec has helped the FBI stop more than 300 cyber attacks since his arrest.


On June 20, 2011 LulzSec targeted the Serious Organised Crime Agency of the United Kingdom, causing UK authorities to take down the website.

Hacktivist Group - WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange as a "multi-national media organization and associated library" and   operated under the principle of "principled leaking," to fight corruption. Originally, WikiLeaks was operated like a wiki site, meaning that users could post documents, edit others' documents, and help decide which materials were posted.

But that changed with the release of Afghanistan War documents.  In July 2010, WikiLeaks published over 90,000 documents regarding the war in Afghanistan. The war logs revealed 144 incidents of formerly unreported civilian casualties by the U.S. military.

WikiLeaks is also notable for its leak of over 20,000 confidential emails and 8,000 file attachments from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), on July 22, 2016. The emails leaked showed instances of key DNC staffers working to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign prior to primary elections, which was directly against the DNC's stated neutrality in primary elections. 


Hacktivism seems to cover such a wide range of activities and motives, both legal and illegal that it cannot be classed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but both in different situations. Some believe hacktivism is a form of protest and is therefore protected as a form of free speech.

You make your own decision on whether hacktivism is a force for good or bad – let me know what you think.


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