26 Jan 2017

We wrote a post about a form of ransomware called ‘Popcorn Time’ that delivered the encryption key to the original victim if they spread it to two other people. The hackers behind popcorn time explained through the ransomware that they were collecting ransoms because they were Syrian refugees who had lost everything in the Syrian civil war.

There’s no way to know if they’re were telling the truth, but it raises the question, are all hacks totally malicious? We usually talk about hackers who have nothing in mind but to either cause general chaos or threaten to cause chaos, collect a ransom, and then run. But hacking isn’t always as clear-cut as that. Today we are delving into murkier water and examining hacktivism.

Hacktivism is exactly what the name implies, activism mixed with hacking. While it may be easy to define, it’s extremely hard to say what is hacktivism and what’s not. For example, you could argue that Edward Snowden’s actions and Wikileaks information dump during the 2016 election were hacktivism, but obviously people disagree about the ethics of both those instances. But those are just high profile cases, and while they may have had a worldwide effect many other lower profile cases may have hurt your wallet without you ever knowing about it.

Just when the Flint Water crisis was becoming national news, the state of Michigan’s website was attacked to draw attention to what was happening in Flint. Similarly, after North Carolina passed the controversial “Bathroom Law”, the state’s websites were hit by a cyber-attack. The same attacks took place in Baltimore and St. Louis after controversial police shootings.

There are a plenty of opinions to be had on the issues that prompted the hacktivists to launch attacks, but one objective fact is that these attacks cost everyday people. When government sites go down, every service associated with the site goes too. But that’s not the only way hacktivist attacks hurt the everyday person.

After the attack the government has to pay for staff and technology to recover and prepare for future attacks, and you can probably figure out who they go to for the money to do so. For example, after the death of Michael Brown hacktivists targeted St. Louis government sites which meant that a team of IT experts had to work for weeks to defend the government network.

Which cost taxpayers at least $150,000.

And just like regular hackers, hacktivists use an array of methods, including doxing attacks on government officials. They see their actions as justice and transparency, but you might see it as illegal and harassment. But it doesn’t matter what you think, because they’re going to keep hacking regardless of what you or anyone says. And that could be good or bad. There’s no way to tell.

In a way, hacktivists are more dangerous than your average hacker. They aren’t in the game to make money, they’re in the game to deliver justice. And anyone who believes that they’re making up for a wrong will work much harder than someone just chasing money. All cybercrime isn’t just black and white wrong from right anymore, no matter how much other people try and make it seem so. But that doesn’t mean that your local tax man won’t come knocking on your door looking for money so your local administration can fit cybersecurity into your budget.

We can’t tell you what to do and think when it comes to hacktivists, but we can tell you that their existence and success shows how important it is to know about cybercrime and the potential effect it can have.

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