Political Hacktivism: An Emerging Trend in Cybercrime?

As we become ever more dependent on our laptops, smartphones and various other means to surf the web, internet crime continues to increase at an alarming rate. There’s no doubt that this rise in cybercrime is linked to organized crime; criminal gangs worldwide exploit the anonymity of the internet to conduct illegal activity. However, a recent story by BBC News about “political hacktivists” demonstrates that criminals are not the only ones using illegal hacking techniques to achieve their goals.

Hacktivism, in the broadest sense, refers to the use of digital tools for a political or social cause. The tactics of hacktivism include blocking access to websites, identity theft, virtual sit-ins, and website redirects.  Hacktivism is as controversial as traditional activism; some believe that harmful cyberattacks represent a justifiable form of protest while others think that all types of protest should remain peaceful. In light of the abovementioned BBC News story, it seems that the former camp is gaining followers as political hacktivists take action to make their point.

According to the article, cyber-activists used hacking techniques to block access to Australian government websites in order to protest the government’s decision to filter certain content.  The cyber-activists used Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which attempt to make a site or service unavailable to its users. According to the security firm Prolexic, the cyber-activists used new methods to implement their plan. Traditionally, DDoS attacks have been employed by cybercriminals. However, the political hacktivists behind the Australian attacks utilized new techniques to shut down the target sites – an outcome that raises an interesting issue. Should hacktivists who use DDoS attacks, or other illegal methods, to make a political point be punished as severely as cybercriminals who do so for other reasons, such as financial gain?

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