THE BLOG
12/06/2012 03:55 pm ET | Updated Feb 05, 2013

Digital Troops on the Front Line

Imagine you felt passionate enough about a cause to place yourself in harm's way to support the side you believed in. Now imagine you could do this without leaving your living room and still step into the front lines of the battle. That's exactly what today's social justice hackers are doing via the Internet -- declaring digital warfare against their opponents centered on their vision of who's right and who's wrong. Today's hackers can easily accomplish their mission by digitally attacking governments, corporations, and other groups they oppose through social media harassment, website defacement, virus and malware distribution, and data theft, leakage, and destruction, just to name a few.

This is their idea of social justice.

The hacker collective, Anonymous, is known for engaging in social justice hacking, and most recently moved these techniques beyond the realm of imaginings to the world of Internet warfare. In response to Syrian officials blacking out the Internet last week, Anonymous was quick to react by launching a series of hacking attacks targeting Syrian government websites around the world. Some of the organizations and companies that encountered Anonymous' wrath included the Syrian railway system and parliament, Syrian national TV, and the Syrian embassies in China, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

These types of social justice attacks often have a long-term impact on the intended victim's digital infrastructure, but they could not succeed if it were not for the unsecured and unprotected computers of businesses and citizens around the globe that are used as launching pads for these assaults. As separate and apart we all might think we are to the conflict in Syria, the reality is that the majority of cyber attacks are purportedly launched from the United States and China. And so, it is quite possible for a United States citizen to unknowingly partake in a hacker's social justice campaign on the other side of the world.

As social justice hackers continue to declare digital war to support one cause or another, we must be diligent not to become digital soldiers in their mission.

Here are some tips on what we can do to protect ourselves from becoming a digital soldier in someone else's warfare.

  • Use the latest operating systems. The newer they are, the more battle-tested and more secure they are.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-phishing software. The easiest way for a hacker to own your computer is to use an exploit that gets through because there is no anti-virus or anti-phishing software installed.
  • Install a firewall. Install a firewall on your machine. A firewall is a necessary fort that can prevent hackers from gaining access to your computer.
  • Update all software. Don't click 'Remind me later." We have all done it at one time or another, but with hundreds of threats occurring daily, it is important that software is updated with the latest security updates.
  • Check addresses carefully. Hackers send you messages from addresses that look legitimate and don't raise alarms. But if the email address is, for example, "facebooksupport@aol.com," you can be sure that it's not from Facebook.
  • Check the address again! Sometimes hackers even use technical tricks to make the address the email came from appear to end with a legitimate, well-known domain. An example might be "help-hr178367459@facebook.com." Emails like these often contain infected attachments.
  • Secure your wireless network. Be sure to set a password on your wireless router, otherwise anyone can use your wireless access to commit crimes and can also easily access other computers that are on your home network.
  • Avoid attachments. Unless you know the sender of an attachment to an email, do not download or open the attachment without taking precaution.
  • Use unique passwords for all logins. You wouldn't use the same key for your house and car and gym locker, so don't use the same password when logging into a site that contains personal information. Also, passwords should have a combination of numbers, uppercase characters, lowercase characters, and symbols. This makes it way more difficult for a hacker to break your password.
  • Go with your gut. If an email seems fishy (or "phishy"), it probably is. Use the common sense you use in the real world to make decisions online. It sounds easy, but far too often people suspend their common sense in the online world.

The specific reasons behind cyber attacks vary widely, but their general purpose seems surprisingly narrow and leads to obvious global impact. Hackers have joined organized units across the globe. As cyber attacks continue to increase steadily, the missions behind hacker attacks also begin to form into consistent patterns.

For more information on how hackers have united into four major categories, see Hackers Unite.