What is hacktivism?

Definition of Hacktivism

Hacktivism, according to information security researcher Dorothy Denning, is "the marriage of hacking and activism." More precisely, it is the use of computer technology to achieve a political agenda through legally ambiguous means. Acts of hacktivism generally obstruct normal computer activity in some way, and does not cause injury or significant monetary loss.

Hacktivism is Activism

Hacktivism's main goal is to bring issues to light and cause social change. It can also be considered activism because it achieves these goals in a relatively peaceful manner.

Hacktivism is Hacking

Hacktivism relies on many properties of the internet, allowing people to use different methods than they would offline. Because of the scalability of the internet, even small groups of people are able to make statements through hacktivism. Hacktivism also relies on the internet being relatively difficult to censor and mostly anonymous.

Boundaries of Hacktivism

The following diagram bounds hacktivism in four ways, showing the limits of what can be considered hacktivism. Each of the boundaries is discussed below.

- Alexandra Samuel,
Hacktivism and the Future of Political Participation

Hacktivism vs. Civil Disobedience

The online vs. offline distinction is the most obvious boundary for hacktivism. A physical sit-in cannot qualify as hacktivism because it does not depend on the internet in some way.

Hacktivism vs. Hacking

While some acts of hacking might have a political motive, hacking in general cannot be considered hacktivism. Hacking is often performed for fun or profit, and neither of these motives relate to activism.

Hacktivism vs. Online Activism

Hacktivism also must include a hacking component. Standard online activism, such as online petitions, form a boundary for what can be considered hacktivism. Hacktivism is bounded by this type of conventional activism on one side, and violent activism on the other.

Hacktivism vs. Cyberterrorism

It is important to distinguish between hacktivism and cyberterrorism, which, according to Denning, "covers politically motivated hacking operations intended to cause grave harm such as loss of life or severe economic damage." In other words, cyberterrorism is a more severe form of hacktivism in which the objective is to cause more permanent damage.