A short history of hactivism

The first act of hactivism was recorded in 1989. The Wank worm changed the login screen of many computers connected to DOE (Dept of Energy), HEPNET and NASA in a protest against nuclear armament. The screen read: “Worms against nuclear killers. Your system has been officially WANKed”.

According to, hactivism is the practice of gaining unauthorized access to a computer system and carrying out various disruptive actions as a means of achieving political or social goals. But when can hacking can be distinguished from hactivism?

Hacking can be done by a government, as in the recent case of Syria. The Syrian government tried to keep track of the opposition members by hacking their computers through Trojans, taking screenshots, viewing the contents of their folders, logging keystrokes, reading their mail and sending all the information to a hidden IP address.

But then, there is the hacking done by Underground Groups. The most famous organization is the Anonymous. Their first attack took place in December 2010 on the Mastercard and Visa sites in response to the companies shutting down of payments to WikiLeaks. In January 2011, they hacked the Tunisian and Egyptian governments. In July 2011, they breached the database of Monsanto, the company that supplied the US government with Agent Orange, during the Vietnam War. In October 2011, they launched operation DarkNet, taking down over 40 child pornography sites and giving out the names of 1500 individuals involved. In January 2012, they temporarily took down the Department of Justice and the FBI’s sites, in a protest against SOPA piracy legislation.

There are three types of hackers:
- White Hat Hacker: someone who breaks security for altruistic, non-malicious reasons
- Grey Hat Hacker: someone with hacking skills but questionable ethics
- Black Hat Hacker: someone who breaks security to engage in criminal activity

Hactivists may fall under any of the above categories. But, they don’t want to be associated with cybercriminals who hack sites for financial gain. They are out there to hack targeted websites and make political statements.

According to the recent Verizon Data Breach Investigation for 2011, hactivism represents 100m of the 174m cybercrimes committed. Where there no cybercrimes committed in past years? Data showed that there were 16,000 complaints made in 2000 and 275,000 in 2008. The truth is, though, that up to 2009 these complaints were not taken seriously. Today, cybercrime represents the 38% of all economic crime.

Statistics show that now 66.1% of the hackers reside in the US, 10.5% in the UK, 7.5% in Nigeria, 3.1% in Canada and 1.6% in China.

Nowadays, things are getting rougher. A retiring FBI agent recently admitted that cyber criminals are too powerful for the government to stop. He also said the U.S.’s current methods for preventing hacks are “unsustainable.” Statistics show that hacking is on the rise.

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