Hacktivism: what is it and how does it affect business cybersecurity?

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Nonconformity, protest, the fight for equal rights and other social causes are aspects that have always been part of humanity. Society has been in charge of using the different means at its disposal to demonstrate and make itself felt in front of the different forms of authority, companies, organizations to pressure the realization of changes in favor of one (or several) specific causes, whether of a social, political, economic.

In modernity, these struggles have been transferred to the technological environment, not only referring to the initiatives promoted on social media platforms or websites to support a cause, but, above all, to individuals or groups of people who, making use of their skills and knowledge, the information systems, networks and data of entities or companies are involved. This with the aim of generating pressure or raising awareness on specific social or political issues. This practice is known as "Hacktivism", a combination of Hacking or piracy and Activism.

Although this type of practice is known to seek social or political benefits (unlike black hat hacking that seeks economic benefits), there is a debate about the legality of the type of practices they carry out, since some of the hackitivist groups They are dedicated to entering information systems irregularly in order to steal information to make it public, putting the cybersecurity of the affected organizations in check. However, there are those who defend the actions of these organizations due to their activist and rebellious nature, which seeks to "oppose the system" and promote their own ideas.

At this point, it is necessary to delve a little into the origin of hacktivism to understand its actions and motivations.

Origins of hacktivism

Although there is no exact date to determine the birth of the ideology, some sources believe that it occurred in the 80s as a result of the emergence and consolidation of the Internet and that it was coined by a group of hackers calling themselves "The Sect of the Dead cow". This group firmly believed that online information should be in the public domain, based on the right of access to information and, therefore, they were opposed to Internet censorship. Based on this ideology, they began to take actions through the Internet to oppose such censorship and also to confront governments that they considered oppressive. 

From then on, more and more groups began to emerge that held similar beliefs and were willing to use their computer skills to fight for their ideals.

It could be said that, over the years, hacktivism became a new form of protest, where the protagonists of it use their information technology skills to access the technological infrastructure of an entity, generating interruptions in the services of their victims or stealing confidential information to achieve their goals. Among the main motivations behind this “ideology” are:

  • Freedom or free access to information.
  • Distrust authority figures.
  • Use ICTs as a means to improve the quality of life.

Hacktivism has achieved such relevance in the current context that it has been identified that the groups or organizations that operate under this ideology are very well structured internally, with established processes, clear policies and operating tools, among other elements.

Despite the fact that, as mentioned above, hacktivism has its roots several years ago, it has only been in the most recent years that the existence of these groups and their real impact on the communities have been more frequently and clearly glimpsed. companies and government entities.
Among the hackitivist organizations that have caused the most impact globally, we find:

Anonymous: It is perhaps one of the best-known hackitivist groups today, especially for the mask they use to hide their identities. Although they do not have a well-known defined structure, it is estimated that they have a large number of members spread throughout the world.
Their attacks have stood out, for the most part, for being retaliatory against actions or decisions taken by entities, governments, individuals.

Macaw Group: While not as widely known as Anonymous, they have recently gained attention as they were blamed for a security breach in which they stole confidential documents from Mexico's Secretary of National Defense. The main cause that moves them is to protest against the repression suffered by some countries in Latin America.

Guardians of Peace: is a group originating from North Korea that has dedicated itself to attacking companies and entities, mostly, from the US and South Korea. They are rumored to be the creators of the destructive WannaCry ransomware.

New World Hackers: It is a group of cyberactivists that is recognized mainly because, together with Anonymous, they managed to hack the services of a company, which, consequently, affected companies such as Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, among others. This attack would have been in retaliation against the measures taken against Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks.

WikiLeaks: is an international organization highly recognized for its information leaks. It is considered by many as a hacktivist group since they are mainly dedicated to making public highly confidential information from governments and high spheres of economic, political and military power, but carefully reserving the sources of origin of the information. Despite the fact that its founder Julian Assange has been arrested for several years, WikiLeaks continues to operate and its collaborating members come from different parts of the world.

Their primary motivation is to reveal secrets and unethical practices by power agencies, religions, and corporations.

All these groups are a sample of how far cyber attackers can go when they organize and seek to achieve a common goal and, although the issue of hacktivism causes a dilemma about whether their actions are illegal or not, the truth is that these actors are accessing to the information systems of its victims with relative "easiness", setting a precedent for those organizations that do engage in cybercrime for economic reasons, which generates an urgent need to redouble the efforts in information security of all corporations, governments , entities, companies.

In the same way, hacktivists have implemented specific attack methods that have allowed them to manipulate the systems of their victims to achieve their objectives. Among the methods most commonly used by these groups we can find:

  • DDoS: It is one of the methods most used by hacktivists, generating massive traffic to the victim's servers to interrupt their services.
  • Defacement: This is another known attack tactic, whereby the visual appearance of the attack target's website is altered to divulge symbols, content, or messages from the hacktivist organization.
  • Doxing: It is a methodology through which private personal information of a person or companies is accessed, such as address, personal telephone number, photographs, financial information, among others, in order to publish it on the Internet. The goal of using this tactic is to humiliate or intimidate the victims.

Other tactics that hacktivism usually uses are phishing or infiltration of systems with the aim of obtaining the necessary data for their activity. Therefore, it is clear that, whether or not you agree with the acts committed by these organizations, it is essential to know the causes that motivate them and the tactics they use to take the appropriate preventive measures.

Whatever the motivation behind the organizations or individuals dedicated to computer hacking, it is essential to always remain alert to what happens in the cybernetic and even political context, since it is clear that what happens in it can have direct or indirect repercussions. in cybersecurity. For example, it has already been seen in various media how disputes between countries have not only occurred at the military or diplomatic level, but have also moved to the digital environment, affecting the systems of both government entities and companies.

With this in mind, it doesn't hurt to have a comprehensive cybersecurity plan in place, tested, and updated to deal with any hackers who may be looking to break into corporate systems and networks.

In conclusion, hacktivism is a movement that, although it has existed for several decades, has been gaining popularity in recent years and has been involved in large cases of breaches of computer security. Their actions have affected large governments and corporations, so you can get an idea of the scope of these groups. 

Hacktivists use various techniques to carry out their actions, from DDoS attacks to exposing private information to achieve their goals. Although some of these actions may seem justified in some cases, we must not forget that hacktivism can have serious consequences for companies and individuals.

It is necessary for all companies and entities, of any origin and size, to adopt a strict cybersecurity posture that considers the greatest number of attack vectors possible, with a view to implementing information protection measures and integrity of the technological infrastructure. Likewise, having an action plan that contemplates the activities to be carried out in the event of being the victim of a cyber attack is key to minimizing the impact of this on the networks, systems and operations of the company.

Beyond your position on the causes that motivate hacktivism, it is important to keep up to date with current hacker organizations, their modus operandi and the level of risk they may represent for your company. Look for trusted providers that accompany you to build an adequate security plan, using tools from the most recognized manufacturers in cybersecurity that provide comprehensive protection of your infrastructure and data.

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