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noun [countable]

a person who changes or manipulates information on the Internet in order to convey a political message


noun [uncountable]

'The ISC said "Islamist terrorists" had learned how to deface websites and launch denial of service attacks, a routine method hacktivists, hackers and criminals use to prevent people's websites from working for short periods.'

THINQ.co.uk 18th March 2010

'While most of the cyber crime activities that we see being conducted on The Internet are being driven by illicit financial incentives, there also appears to be a type of malicious activity being driven by other motivations altogether – Hacktivism.'

Trend Micro 29th April 2008

Within the past couple of years there has been an increasingly evident trend of political and environmental activists turning to the Internet as a platform for making protests. These people, who for ideological reasons deliberately interfere with online data and services, have been dubbed hacktivists.

the hacktivist uses the same digital tools as the hacker, but does so in order to bring attention to a political or ideological cause

Unlike the work of the hacker, who is usually associated with criminal activity, especially the illicit transfer of money or sensitive information, hacktivism operates just within the boundaries of legality, exploiting the concept of freedom of speech. The hacktivist uses the same digital tools as the hacker, but does so in order to bring attention to a political or ideological cause. One such example from the recent past was the disruption of the websites of a large number of perfume companies, who were targeted by green hacktivists because they disagreed with the way these firms made and tested their products. In early 2010, political hacktivists blocked access to a number of Australian government websites in protest at plans to filter content.

Among the techniques used by hacktivists are the unsolicited modification of a website's home page to display a highly visible message, or the launch of what is called a denial of service attack. Often called a DoS for short, a denial of service attack is the temporary loss of network connectivity and services such as e-mail, which in some cases can cause a website accessed by millions to temporarily shut down.

Background – hacktivist and hacktivism

Incidents of hacktivism stretch back over the last 15 years or more, but in the last couple of years have become more frequent and had increasingly damaging effects.

The terms hacktivist and hacktivism date back to the mid-1990s, though one of the earliest recorded incidents of the concept in action occurred some years earlier. In October 1989, anti-nuclear protestors wanting to stop a radioactive-fuelled space probe, launched WANK (Worms Against Nuclear Killers), a program that sabotaged the login screens of NASA computer networks and reportedly cost NASA nearly half a million dollars in wasted time and resources.

The word hacktivist is a blend of hack and activist. The verb hack has its origins in the old English haccian, meaning 'cut into pieces'. The sense relating to gaining unauthorised access to computer data is comparatively recent, dating back to 1983.

Hacktivists are sometimes alternatively referred to as cyber-activists. Another recent neologism on the same theme is slacktivist, which describes a political activist who may have been active in the past, but now does very little to support a cause, or only does things that require minimal effort.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 4th May 2010.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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