A new whitepaper from McAfee takes a look at the emergence of hacktivism and the implications of how digital protest movements may evolve in the future.
The report, titled ‘Hacktivism: Cyberspace has become the new medium for political voices’, was authored by Francois Paget, a senior malware research engineer at McAfee Labs in France. The paper traces hacktivism from the first uses of the word to the people launching politically-motivated distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks under the Anonymous label.
Just last week, Anonymous claimed to have compromised data belonging to ExxonMobil during ‘Op SaveTheArtic’ in response to environmental concerns. While Anonymous has certainly become a popular face for hacktivist activity, the McAfee report also touches on the activities of what Paget calls “cyberoccupiers” who also use Internet as a place for protest. As an example, he cited the actions of Telecomix, which partially restored Internet access in Egypt when former president Hosni Mubarak shut down access for the country’s citizens in January 2011.
“Although Anonymous firmly defends freedom of speech and exchange over the Internet, cyberoccupiers, who are anchored in the real world, view the Internet as a tool to help them in their struggle to achieve a freer society,” he wrote. “In democratic countries, their actions are underreported because they are often located on the edge of legality...It is often confined to an activist use of social networking, which becomes a means for communications and propaganda."
Paget also traces the emergence of cyber-warriors that have risen up in a backlash to such activity.
“Whether they call themselves Russian nationalists, Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani patriots, or defenders of Israel and Palestine, all of these little groups carry out [guerrilla-like] actions online against anyone they consider to be enemies…they set up voluntary botnets or deface and destroy the messages or actions of dissidents and adversaries,” he wrote.
A lack of structure and cohesiveness could hamper hacktivist movements, he added, and could possibly lead to such groups falling victim to an increase in criminalization and government crackdowns.
“However, if the hacktivists of 2012 manage to mature, organize, and even mobilize outside of the web, we could think of Anonymous as a Version 2.0 of nongovernmental organizations, ideologically questionable, perhaps, yet respected within our democracies,” he wrote.
The report can be read here.