While most of the cyber crime activities that we see being conducted on The Internet are being driven by illicit financial incentives, there also appears to be type of malicious activity being driven by other motivations altogether — “Hacktivism”.
Hacktivism is best explained as a combination of “hacking” and “activism”, traditionally rooted in cultural and/or geopolitical unrest. As Wikipedia defines it, Hacktivism is “…the nonviolent use of illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools in pursuit of political ends. These tools include web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web site parodies, virtual sit-ins, virtual sabotage, and software development.”
In fact, Hacktivist incidents stretch back over 20 years, but only in the past couple of years have they become more frequent, and more devastatingly malicious.
The most notable incident of regional Hacktivism were the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against government and corporate websites in Estonia in 2007, which actually began a worldwide dialog on the real threat of “Cyber Attacks” and the impact on national infrastructure.
However, the latest victims of Hacktivism appear to be several U.S. websites in Eastern Europe belonging to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. It was reported Monday that “…the attack, which started on April 26, initially targeted the website of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, but quickly spread to other sites…”
According to a statement on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website, RFE/RL had been “…hit before by denial-of-service attacks, but this attack was unprecedented in its scale, as RFE/RL websites received up to 50,000 fake hits every second.”
While incidents of Hacktivism are not new, they are beginning to become a lot more frequent — perhaps due to the availability of tools to conduct hacktivist mischief, but also perhaps due to the ubiquitous social networking mechanisms which can now be used as to build consensus when times of cultural or political unrest present the opportunity.
In any event, Hacktivism is becoming a disturbing trend, and one which can have serious ripple effects that interfere with Internet operational continuity — sometimes in ways which we may have not even thought of yet.
“Fergie”, a.k.a. Paul Ferguson
Internet Security Intelligence
Advanced Threats Research