Let’s Talk Tech: Hactivism

Hactivism itself is not much different than physical forms of protest. It’s creating a mild inconvenience for a large corporation accompanied by a message of “we don’t like what you’re doing”, like when the infamous group Anonymous crashed PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard’s websites for not supporting donations to Wikileaks (Thompson). While irritating to those who might have wanted to use those sites at that particular time and panic inducing for those in control of the websites, in the end, the overall damage was negligible to such massive companies. However, it did put a spotlight on Anonymous, the Wikileaks issue, and what position corporate America is likely to take on whistleblowers and hackers. For all intensive purposes, it was a successful peaceful protest against the suppression of free speech; no different than having a thousand people gather at PayPal’s headquarters and sit down in the lobby. Either way it’s going to block traffic, but on the Internet it was easier for more people to get involved and protest a cause they believed in.

Now, hactivism is not cyberterrorism. Cyberterrorism, by definition, is intentional remote hacking “where the objective is to cause more permanent damage” (Potter). In 2011, the same group, Anonymous, hacked Sony’s Playstation 3 servers because Sony was prosecuting a popular hactivist. They flooded the servers with false computer traffic and slowed them down. It was the same tactic that Anonymous applied to the PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard sites, but the difference in the two scenarios is the fact that a second attack occurred during Anonymous’s DDoS.

The second attack resulted in the theft of Sony client credit card information, passwords, names, and email addresses. On top of that loss, Sony estimated losing $171 million for security upgrades and lost clients (Schreier). It took Sony months to get back on their feet, and even after they relaunched the servers, many of the optional features for Playstation were still unavailable. In this case, Sony didn’t receive a digital slap on the wrist for prosecuting a popular hactivist; they were intentionally attacked with the sole purpose of hindering Sony’s production in the long term, and they released private information that could cause harm to innocent bystanders.

Where does that leave us in the debate? Is hactivism a public service or a public menace? In my opinion, hacking used to reprimand otherwise untouchable companies or share academic information that should be available to all no matter gender, race, or class, I don’t have a problem with. I don’t see how it’s any different from peaceful protests. But I do think it’s important to maintain the line between hactivism and cyberterrorism. Peaceful protests are an unalienable right, but intentionally doing harm to others is not.


Christie Thompson. “Hacktivism: Civil Disobedience or Cyber Crime?” Propublica. Top Stories RSS, 22 Jan. 2013. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

Potter, Jonathan, Jesse Ruder, and Ben Roth. “Hacktivism: Democratic or Dubious?” Hacktivism: Democratic or Dubious? Stanford University, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

Schreier, Jason. “Sony Estimates $171 Million Loss From PSN Hack.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 23 May 11. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

Photo Credit: http://cdn.pcwallart.com/images/anonymous-hackers-wallpaper-4.jpg



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