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.
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.