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Case Studies

IT hacktivism report

What is hacktivism? It combines politics, the internet, and other elements. Activism, a political movement emphasising direct action, is the inspiration for hacktivism. Think of Greenpeace activists who go to sea to disrupt whaling campaigns. Think of the many demonstrators who protested against human rights violations in China by trying to put out the Olympic flame during its world tour in 2008. Think of the thousands of activists who responded to the Adbusters call in July 2011 to peacefully occupy a New York City park as part of Occupy Wall Street.  For more of this McAfee report on hacktivism, visit



Adding the online activity of hacking (with both good and bad connotations) to political activism gives us hacktivism. One source claims this term was first used in an article on the filmmaker Shu Lea Cheang; the article was written by Jason Sack and published in InfoNation in 1995. In 1996, the term appeared in an online article written by a member of the American group Cult of the Dead Cow.1 In 2000, Oxblood Ruffin, another member of CDC, wrote that hacktivists use technology to defend human rights.2 At times citing libertarian ideals (a desire to preserve free enterprise, individual freedoms, freedom of speech, and freedom to circulate information), many activists also argue that the Internet should be free. The Anonymous movement is the epitome of hacktivism. Focusing initially on actions to uphold their notion of the Internet, they have expanded their activities from web actions to struggles that are also happening in the streets.

Hacktivism is not a new phenomenon. Three years ago events in the former Soviet republics of Estonia (in 2007) and Georgia (in 2008) brought hacktivism to the world’s attention. These two cyberattacks, which seemed more like the beginnings of a cyberwar than what we now call hacktivism, are quite unlike the attacks that targeted the opponents of WikiLeaks and companies such as Monsanto. 


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