What is hacktivism and is it the same as hacking?



Hacktivism, or internet activism, has become increasingly common in recent years. Various hacktivism groups have emerged and their ability to cause disruption is undeniable. Some have even become quite famous, especially when associated with high profile campaigns.

Hacktivism isn’t always illegal. However, hacktivists routinely commit cybercrimes against both businesses and individuals. So if you have an online presence, it is an important threat that you should understand.

So what exactly is hacktivism and what do hacktivists actually want?

What is hacktivism?

The term hacktivism is derived from the terms hacking and activism. Roughly speaking, it means the misuse of technology for social or political purposes.

Hacktivists are often computer experts. And they often use hacking techniques. The term can also describe an activist with no technical knowledge, such as a whistleblower or an anonymous blogger.

The damage caused by hacktivist activities also varies widely. It can be as harmless as promoting free expression on social media. Or it can be cyberattacks that take entire organizations offline.

Hacktivism vs. Hacking

Hacker with a half-masked face

Both terms can apply to the same activities. The main difference between the two is what the actor wants to achieve.


Hackers are not defined by their motivation. A hacker can break into a computer for financial reasons or because he wants to prove his skills.

A hacktivist is someone who tries to get some social or political outcome. They can break into a computer network and even steal confidential files. But in this case, a hacktivist would usually publish these files online instead of selling them.

There is not always a legal difference. Hacktivists routinely commit cybercrime. The actor’s motivation has very little effect on possible penalties.

What do hacktivists want to achieve?

People commit acts of hacktivism for a variety of reasons. However, they typically focus on issues of human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of information.

The target of individual attacks is not always easy to understand. For example, a hacktivist may attempt to take a website offline to prove a point, discredit an organization, or simply to get revenge.

Who are hacktivists targeting?

Hacktivists target both organizations and individuals. Attackers usually choose victims because they hold values ​​or viewpoints that they disagree with.

Hacktivism is often carried out in response to behavior that the hacktivists consider immoral. This can be anything from a person saying the wrong thing to an organization involved in corruption and / or human rights abuses.

Why is hacktivism a problem?

Hacktivists, by definition, have good intentions. The question of which techniques are suitable, however, is controversial. This is something that the public and even the hacktivists themselves disagree about.

Blogging anonymously is an important part of freedom of expression. Data leaks, while illegal in themselves, often document the illegal activities of others. Hacktivism is often practiced in the hope that it will deter others who are doing something wrong.

However, critics of hacktivism point out that hacktivist activities are often illegal. Targets are often chosen before hacktivists have necessarily proven wrongdoing. Hacktivists are also known to cause significant financial damage to their victims.

Some hacktivists also fail to see the irony in what they are doing. Hacktivism is usually carried out in the name of free expression. But victims are often selected for saying things a hacktivist would disagree with.

Types of hacktivism

Hooded figure on a laptop

Hacktivism is a broad term that encompasses a wide variety of activities.

Anonymous blogging

Hacktivism is often practiced to change public opinion. Blogging anonymously enables people to achieve this goal without facing reprisals. Cyber ​​criminals use anonymous blogging to explain their attacks. But it is also used by whistleblowers and opinionated bloggers in countries without freedom of speech.

Defacing the website

Hacktivists often deface websites to get their point across. This can cause a website to not function properly. It can also consist of a message that embarrasses or discredits an organization. These attacks are effective because they are often picked up by the media.

Website mirroring

Website mirroring is the process of replicating an entire website and bringing it online at a different URL. It is mainly used by hacktivists to avoid geographic restrictions. This enables people to visit restricted websites in countries that heavily censor Internet access.


Doxxing is the act of discovering someone’s identity and posting that identity online. It is an important tool for hacktivism that enables hacktivists to punish people who would otherwise remain anonymous.

Leaking information

Hacktivists often hack into private computer systems and post what they find online. The information they steal is often sensitive and they divulge it in order to embarrass or discredit the victim. These attacks are often carried out at the risk of substantial prison sentences.

DDoS attacks

DDoS stands for Distributed Denial-of-Service. DDoS attacks take websites offline or otherwise disrupt normal web traffic. They do this by sending so many visitors to a website that the server is overwhelmed. DDoS attacks are popular with hacktivists because they can harm large organizations with minimal effort.

The most famous hacktivist organizations

Hacker Phishing Security

Many hacktivists work independently, but there are also several notable hacktivist organizations. Some of the most notable include:


Anonymous is arguably the best known hacktivist organization. Individual members are rarely identified, but authorities have still arrested many. They usually target large organizations and have carried out successful attacks against various politicians. Including very high-profile personalities such as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.


Wikileaks is a non-profit media organization founded by Julian Assange. But it is also a hacktivist organization that is responsible for some of the most important data leaks in recent history. You published classified information about the war in Afghanistan. They also posted thousands of emails related to the 2016 US presidential election.

Will hacktivism always happen?

Hacktivism is a lingering threat that is likely to never stop. Technology is used all the time to hide information and suppress free expression. Provided that this happens, there will be people who try to do the opposite with the help of technology.

Individual hacktivists are often arrested. But any criminal prosecution against one person or group is usually caught immediately by others.

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