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Offline mayya

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Hacktivism: Good or Evil?
« on: March 14, 2014, 13:52:08 PM »
Hacktivism: Good or Evil?

Dai Davis

Wikipedia is always a good source of definitions for technology related issues. It defines hacktivism as “the use of computers and computer networks to promote political ends, chiefly free speech, human rights, and information ethics”. As with any technology “hacking” and therefore hacktivism can be a force for good or evil.

As websites become ever more secure, so those “hacking” them become more sophisticated in their methods. Over the years, many of the more sophisticated hacks have been carried out by groups of hackers or nation states, rather than individuals.


Two of the most widely known groups are Anonymous and Lulz Security (more commonly abbreviated to LulzSec).

However, in the case of LulzSec, the group has (allegedly) disbanded and some of the members arrested. Nevertheless, given the disparate structure of these organisations and the transient nature of the members of these groups, it is unlikely that all of the members have been caught.

Early attacks

The range of targets of these organisations has been wide. One of the earliest targets of Anonymous was the Church of Scientology. The initial attack consisted of telephoning the Church of Scientology with prank telephone calls and sending black sheets of paper by facsimile transmission.
These were done together with the Internet equivalent a “Denial of Service” attack. A “Denial of Services” attack consists of sending multiple simultaneous requests for information to the target website, thus causing it to crash. While some regard a “Denial of Service” as relatively simplistic and, indeed, a denial of freedom of speech, it is nevertheless effective.

Is hacking worse than a physical attack ?

Whether it is worse than a physical assault, such as sending large numbers of useless facsimiles or holding a mass protest outside the Buildings of the Church of Scientology, depends upon your point of view. Is it worse? At first sight it might seem so, since those protesting electronically invariably do so anonymously (no pun intended).

However, some of those protesting physically do so wearing hoods or masks. Of course like many protests, innocent bystanders can also be hurt. During the attack against Scientology, a secondary school in the Dutch municipality of Deventer and a 59 year old man from Stockton, California were incorrectly included among the targets.

Unexpected fall out

Indeed, unintended consequences often follow from Hacktivist attacks. An attack in 2011 by LulzSec was on the internet pornsite LulzSec published some 26,000 e-mail addresses and associated passwords, in a move apparently to embarrass the users: these appeared to include two Malaysian government officials and three members of the United States military.
This triggered an unexpected response from Facebook, who prevented users with the same e-mail address from accessing their Facebook account: Facebook automatically assumed that those users might have the same passwords.

Political hacking

Many targets of Hacktivist groups are of a more overtly political nature. LulzSec, in its short lived “career” attacked InfraGard a partnership between businesses and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States. In the United States, it successfully attacked the Senate and the Central Intelligence Agency website.

It “damaged” these websites: in the case of InfraGard by defacing the website; the Senate by releasing some “secure” information; and the CIA by taking the site down for over 2 hours. In contrast, it also attacked the British National Health Service, although in this case it performed a public service: merely sending the NHS an e-mail informing them of the security vulnerability it had found.

Other countries have also suffered from attacks. In Portugal, for example, the websites of the Bank of Portugal, the Portuguese parliament as well as the Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Development have been attacked.
This was apparently in response to police brutality at public protests against austerity measures held on 24 November 2011. As with many such attacks, however, it is not always possible to identify the causes conclusively.

Hacktivism and the Arab Spring

Not all Hacktivists work in secret. In 2011, at the start of the Arab Spring, the Egyptian government attempted to shut down the internet. This provoked a response from Google, Twitter and SayNow.

They collaborated and in a very short time produced a “Speak2Tweet” service allowing anyone, inside or outside Egypt to leave a message on certain telephone numbers. The messages were then immediately placed on Twitter. The stated motive was “We hope that this will go some way to helping people in Egypt stay connected at this very difficult time”.

There are other examples of hacktivism against states. When in 2009 Iranians protested unsuccessfully against perceived widespread election fraud, Anonymous set up an information exchange website: “Anonymous Iran”. More recently the government of Turkey has taken an increasingly sharp swing to authoritarianism.

This prompted what to many people is an example of “good” hacktivism by Turkish Hacktivist group Redhack.

Giving protestors a voice

Redhack suggested that protesters alleged to have sent illegal messages by Twitter should allege that their account had been hacked into by Redhack. Redhack stated that it would “take the blame [for Twitter users targeted by the State] with pleasure”.

Redhack also issued advice to activists to use Twitter rather than Facebook or Skype because the two latter services confirmed identities of their users to the authorities whereas Twitter does not.

The previous targets of the Redhack group have included the Turkish Council of Higher Education, Police Force, Army, Türk Telekom and the National Intelligence Organization. After its offer to assist those targeted by the Authorities, the number of followers of the Twitter account of the Redhack group numbered over 600,000.

Hacktivism in Africa

A recent example of hacktivism concerns the activities of Hacktivist group Anonymous Africa during the 2013 Zimbabwean election. They attacked and closed down some 50 websites including those associated with the ruling Zanu PF party as well as those of the regime newspaper “The Herald”.

Some justified this by pointing out that Mugabe’s regime was allowed plenty of airtime on State TV to support its own message while giving none to the opposition.

Harder to justify was the attack on the website of the South Africa based newspaper group Independent Newspapers. This was targeted following a pro-Mugabe opinion piece in one edition. Some say that the action, an unsophisticated denial-of-service attack, was an unjustified erosion of freedom of speech.

Others equate Mugabe, who in a judgment of the Council of the European Union dated 26th January 2009 is “responsible for activities that seriously undermine democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law”, with Hitler and applaud the attack.

State sponsored hacktivism

Hacktivism can be and is sometimes state-sponsored. One large scale state-sponsored instances of hacktivism, labelled “Titan Rain” occurred over a three year period commencing in 2006. The attacks seemed to be targeted at United States defence contractors websites and were widely alleged to be the work of the Chinese military.

While the stories of “Unit 61398” of the Chinese Army are numerous, a larger and in many respects more insidious example of state-sponsored hacktivism is that undertaken by Russia.
In 2007, as part of a row between Estonia and Russia over the relocation of a statue in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn another massive cyber-attack took place. Given the complexity of this attack, it is widely believed to have been sponsored by the Russian state: indeed this allegation was made by at least two Estonian ministers of state.

In the attack, considerable interruptions occurred to many state-related entities in Estonia including also Estonian financial institutions.

Russian attacks against Georgia

An stronger body of evidence pointing the blame at Russia is that during the conflicts with Georgia in 2008 during which Russia re-established its earlier “annexation” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian targets, including the Parliament of Georgia and Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs websites suffered a cyber-attack.

A subsequent study in March 2009 by network security firm Greylogic concluded: "The available evidence supports a strong likelihood of GRU/FSB planning and direction at a high level while relying on Nashi intermediaries and the phenomenon of crowdsourcing to obfuscate their involvement and implement their strategy."

In March 2014, during the Russian invasion of Crimea, the Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council stated: “There was a massive DoS [Denial of Service] attack on communication channels of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, which was apparently aimed at hindering a response to the challenges faced by our state.

The Ukrainian state-run news agency, Ukrinform, has also suffered a similar attack.” In the same way that the physical presence of the Russian army was not visibly obvious, because members of their military did not wear identification, so too the cyber-attacks from Russia were undertaken surreptitiously.

Chinese military hacking units

Another example of nation-state sponsored hacktivism includes an attack against a number of American companies and federal agencies. The internet security company Mandiant published detailed evidence showing the Chinese Army’s Unit 61398 to be the source of the hacking. Many of the world’s conflict zones are also associated with political hacktivism.

One that is often reported is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but others include India-Pakistan (which began in May 1998, when Pakistani based hackers attacked an Indian Atomic Weapons Research establishment in Mumbai) and China’s attack on pro-Tibetan Independence websites as well as on Taiwan.
In addition, China has been accused of attacking Japanese sites in its continuing dispute regarding sovereignty over the Senkaku / Diaoyu islands. Chinese-based hacking has also been accused to be the cause of the demise of the once-massive Canadian company Nortel who lost a large number of its corporate secrets through hacking emanating from China.

In a recent British-related incident, the firm Dattatec based in Sante Fe, Argentina launched an arcade style shooting game in April 2013 in which police on the “Malvinas” (i.e. the Falklands) fought British “terrorists”. The Argentinian company was forced to face another battle: a Denial of Service attack from the equivalent of 5,000 computers at once. This attack may have been the work of a lone individual.

Stuxnet and Iran

A game changing event was the development and release of the Stuxnet virus. The virus was uncovered in June 2010 but that was not until it had done its job of causing the centrifuges in Iran’s uranium enrichment programme to spin out of control. It specifically targeted the relevant Siemens control systems for the centrifuges.

 While many in the West may applaud the motives behind this attack on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it undoubtedly changed the rules in that it caused real physical damage.

While there has never been any formal acknowledgment that Israel and the United States were behind the Stuxnet virus, Eugene Kaspersky, the co-founder of the Kaspersky Anti-Virus company has estimated that the development cost behind Stuxnet was of the order of £10,000,000.
It is therefore unlikely that anyone would have the means to produce such a product without the backing of a nation-state.
Iran launches Shamoon

It did not take the Iranians too long to retaliate. In August 2012, the Saudi national oil and gas company, Saudi Aramco had 30,000 of its computers infected with the Shamoon computer virus. This computer virus renders hard drives unusable by writing spurious data over the files stored on them.
An unknown Hacktivist group “Cutting Sword of Justice” took responsibility, however it is widely believed to have been the Iranian state that was behind this highly sophisticated attack. The Saudis have long been allies of the Israelis in trying to thwart the nuclear ambitions of Iran.

So, is hacktivism good or bad? That depends upon your perspective. Like most weapons, hacking can be used for good or bad, to defend freedom or attack it. Perhaps only time will tell whether hacktivism earns a reputation for net detriment or net benefit.

Dai Davis is a Chartered Engineer and Solicitor. He has Masters degrees in Physics and Computer Science. Having been National Head of IT law at Eversheds, he is now a partner in his own law firm. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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Re: Hacktivism: Good or Evil?
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2014, 11:19:36 AM »
nice topic man,.,,,, you have written super article...