Hacktivism and origin of reality hacking

“Hacktivist” redirects here. For the band, see Hacktivist (band).

In Internet activism, hacktivism or hactivism (a portmanteau of hack and activism ) is the use of technology to promote a political agenda or a social change.[1] With roots in hacker culture and hacker ethics, its ends are often related to the free speech, human rights, or freedom of information movements.[2]

The term is frequently attributed to Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) member “Omega,” who used it in a 1996 e-mail to the group.[3][4] However, writer Jason Sack used the term earlier, in a 1995 article on New Media artist Shu Lea Cheang.[5][6][note 1] Due to the variety of meanings of its root words, hacktivism is sometimes ambiguous and there exists significant disagreement over the kinds of activities and purposes it encompasses. Some definitions include acts of cyberterrorism while others simply reaffirm the use of technological hacking to effect social change.[7][8]



Hacktivist activities span many political ideals and issues. Freenet, a peer-to-peer platform for censorship-resistant communication, is a prime example of translating political thought (anybody should be able to speak freely) into code. Hacking as a form of activism can be carried out through a network of activists, such as Anonymous and WikiLeaks, or through a singular activist, working in collaboration toward a common goals without an overarching authority figure.[9]

“Hacktivism” is a controversial term with several meanings. The word was coined to characterize electronic direct action as working toward social change by combining programming skills with critical thinking. But just as hack can sometimes mean cyber crime, hacktivism can be used to mean activism that is malicious, destructive, and undermining the security of the Internet as a technical, economic, and political platform.[10]


Depending on who is using the term, hacktivism can be a politically motivated technology hack, a constructive form of anarchic civil disobedience, or an undefined anti-systemic gesture.[11] It can signal anticapitalist or political protest; it can denote anti-spam activists, security experts, or open source advocates.[12]

Some people[ who? ] describing themselves as hacktivists have taken to defacing websites for political reasons, such as attacking and defacing government websites as well as web sites of groups who oppose their ideology.[13] Others, such as Oxblood Ruffin (the “foreign affairs minister” of Cult of the Dead Cow and Hacktivismo), have argued forcefully against definitions of hacktivism that include web defacements or denial-of-service attacks.[14]

Hactivism is often seen as shadowy due to its anonymity, commonly attributed to the work of fringe groups and outlying members of society.[15] The lack of responsible parties to be held accountable for the social-media attacks performed by hactivists has created implications in corporate and federal security measures both on and offline.[16]

While some self-described hacktivists[ who? ] have engaged in DoS attacks, critics suggest[ who? ] that DoS attacks are an attack on free speech and that they have unintended consequences. DoS attacks waste resources and they can lead to a “DoS war” that nobody will win[ citation needed ]. In 2006, Blue Security attempted to automate a DoS attack against spammers; this led to a massive DoS attack against Blue Security which knocked them, their old ISP and their DNS provider off the Internet, destroying their business.[17]

Following denial-of-service attacks by Anonymous on multiple sites, in reprisal for the apparent suppression of WikiLeaks, John Perry Barlow, a founding member of the EFF, said “I support freedom of expression, no matter whose, so I oppose DDoS attacks regardless of their target… they’re the poison gas of cyberspace…”.[18] On the other hand, Jay Leiderman, an attorney for many hacktivists, argues that DDoS can be a legitimate form of protest speech in situations that are reasonably limited in time, place and manner.[19]

Forms and methods[edit]

Self-proclaimed “Hactivists” often work anonymously, sometimes operating in groups while other times operating as a lone-wolf with several cyber-personas all corresponding to one activist[15] within the cyberactivism umbrella that has been gaining public interest and power in pop-culture. Hactivists generally operate under apolitical ideals and express uninhibited ideas or abuse without being scrutinized by society while representing or defending them publicly under an anonymous identity giving them a sense of power in the cyberactivism community.

In order to carry out their operations, hacktivists might create new tools; or integrate or use a variety of software tools readily available on the Internet. One class of hacktivist activities includes increasing the accessibility of others to take politically motivated action online.

  1. Code: Software and websites can achieve political purposes. For example, the encryption software PGP can be used to secure communications; PGP’s author, Phil Zimmermann said he distributed it first to the peace movement.[20] Jim Warren suggests PGP’s wide dissemination was in response to Senate Bill 266, authored by Senators Biden and DeConcini, which demanded that “…communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications…”.[21] WikiLeaks is an example of a politically motivated website: it seeks to “keep governments open”.[22]
  2. Website Mirroring: is used as a circumvention tool to bypass censorship blocks on websites. It is a technique that copies the content of a censored website and posts it to other domains and sub-domains that are not censored.[23]
  3. Geo-bombing: a technique in which netizens add a geo-tag while editing YouTube videos so that the location of the video can be displayed in Google Earth.
  4. Anonymous blogging: a method of speaking out to a wide audience about human rights issues, government oppression, etc. that utilizes various web tools such as free and/or disposable email accounts, IP masking, and blogging software to preserve a high level of anonymity.[24]
  5. RECAP is software that was written to ‘liberate US case law’ and make it freely available online. The software project takes the form of distributed document collection and archival.[25]
  6. Leaking:Information leakage from an insider source who acts in the interest of the public to reveal sensitive and otherwise protected information about a given organization that implicates them in wrongdoing or malicious practices.
  7. Doxing:[16] The practice in which private and/or confidential documents and records are hacked into and made public. Hactivists view this as a form of assured transparency, experts claim it is harassment.
  8. Denial-of-Service attacks: These attacks, commonly referred to as DoS attacks, use large arrays of personal and public computers that hackers take control of via malware executable files usually transmitted through email attachments or website links. After taking control, these computers act like a herd of zombies, redirecting their network traffic to one website, with the intention of overloading servers and taking a website offline.[16]
  9. Website defacements: Hacker(s) infiltrate a web server to replace a specific web page with one of their own, usually to convey a specific message.[26][27]
  10. Website redirects: Similar to website mirroring, this method involves changing the address of a website within the server so would-be visitors of the site are redirected to a site created by the perpetrator, typically to denounce the original site.[27]
  11. Virtual sit-ins: Large numbers of protesters visit a targeted website and rapidly load pages to overwhelm the site with network traffic to slow the site or take it offline.[27]