Hacktivism (a portmanteau of hack and activism) is the use of computers and computer networks as a means of protest to promote political ends. The term was first coined in 1998 by a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective. [1] If hacking as "illegally breaking into computers" is assumed, then hacktivism could be defined as "the nonviolent use of illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools in pursuit of political ends". These tools include web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web site parodies, virtual sit-ins, typosquatting [2] and virtual sabotage.[3] If hacking as "clever computer usage/programming" is assumed, then hacktivism could be understood as the writing of code to promote political ideology: promoting expressive politics, free speech, human rights, and information ethics through software development. Acts of hacktivism are carried out in the belief that proper use of code will be able to produce similar results to those produced by regular activism or civil disobedience.

Hacktivist activities span many political ideals and issues. Freenet is a prime example of translating political thought (anyone should be able to speak) into code. Hacktivismo is an offshoot of Cult of the Dead Cow; its beliefs include access to information as a basic human right. The loose network of programmers, artists and radical militants 1984 network liberty alliance is more concerned with issues of free speech, surveillance and privacy in an era of inceased technological surveillance.

Hacktivism is a controversial term, and since it covers a range of passive to active and non-violent to violent activities, it can often be construed as cyberterrorism. It was coined to describe how electronic direct action might work toward social change by combining programming skills with critical thinking. Others use it as practically synonymous with malicious, destructive acts that undermine the security of the Internet as a technical, economic, and political platform.

Essentially, the controversy reflects two divergent philosophical strands within the hacktivist movement. One strand thinks that malicious cyber-attacks are an acceptable form of direct action. The other strand thinks that all protest should be peaceful, refraining from destruction.[citation needed]

As a principle of political activism, reality hacking takes advantage of the insight of linguists and sociologists who argue that post-twentieth-century popular culture in the advanced world has become particularly impervious to either positive or negative rethinking of community. Negative assertions about community—in the form of negative news stories and mass political protests—tend to fall on ears overloaded by daily tragedy in the news, even when the causes and facts they relate are valid and deserving. Positive reimaginings of community—in the form of utopian havens, alternative religious or political structures, or idealistic protest against the status quo—equally tend to fall upon unbelieving ears of busy individuals who have already accepted the standards, sacrifices, and limits of the reality in which they normally operate.

As an alternative to these dead ends of twentieth-century political activism, reality hacking tries to capture the attention of individuals in their normal course of regular information consumption. It may involve attracting mass media attention to an attention-getting fringe political issue more liable to generate rethinking of cultural norms than standard debates to which the public has already become jaded. Or it may involve harnessing the means of information dissemination itself, using online information sources to disseminate alternative definitions of commonly accepted facts.



Some people describing themselves as hacktivists have taken to defacing websites for political reasons, such as attacking and defacing government websites as well as web sites of groups who oppose their ideology. Others, such as Oxblood Ruffin (the "foreign affairs minister" of Hacktivismo), have argued forcefully against definitions of hacktivism that include web defacements or denial-of-service attacks.[4] Within the hacking community, those who carry out automated attacks are generally known as script kiddies.

Critics suggest that DoS attacks are an attack on free speech; that they have unintended consequences; that they waste resources; and that they could lead to a "DoS war" that nobody will win. In 2006, Blue Security attempted to automate a DoS attack against spammers; this led to a massive DoS attack against Blue Security which knocked them, their old ISP and their DNS provider off the internet, destroying their business.[5]

Following denial-of-service attacks by Anonymous on multiple sites, in reprisal for the apparent suppression of Wikileaks, John Perry Barlow, a founding member of the EFF, said "I support freedom of expression, no matter whose, so I oppose DDoS attacks regardless of their target... they're the poison gas of cyberspace...".[6]

Depending on who is using the term, hacktivism can be a politically constructive form of anarchic civil disobedience or an undefined anti-systemic gesture; it can signal anticapitalist or political protest; it can denote anti-spam activists, security experts, or open source advocates. Critics of hacktivism fear that the lack of a clear agenda makes it a politically immature gesture, while those given to conspiracy theory hope to see in hacktivism an attempt to precipitate a crisis situation online.

Elements of hacktivism

A Haction usually has the following elements.

  • Political motivation
  • A premium on humor, and often resembles a digital form of clowning
  • Has a moderate "outlaw orientation" as opposed to severe
  • Result of aggressive policy circumvention, rather than a gradual attempt to change a policy
  • Capacity for solo activity: while most forms of political activism require the strength of masses, hacktivism is most often the result of the power of one, or small group.
  • Most often carried out anonymously, and can take place over transnational borders.

Forms of hacktivism

In order to carry out their operations, hacktivists use a variety of software tools readily available on the Internet. In many cases the software can be downloaded from a popular website, or launched from a website with click of a button. Some of the more well-known hacktivist tools are below:

  1. Defacing Web Pages: Between 1995-1999 Attrition.org reported 5,000 website defacements. In such a scenario, the hacktivist will significantly alter the front page of a company's or governmental agency's website.
  2. Web Sit-ins: In this form of hacktivism, hackers attempt to send so much traffic to the site that the overwhelmed site becomes inaccessible to other users in a variation on a denial of service.
  3. E-mail Bombing: Hacktivists send scores of e-mails with large file attachments to their target's e-mail address.
  4. Code: Software and websites can achieve political purposes. For example, the encryption software PGP can be used to secure communications; PGP's author, Phil Zimmermann said he distributed it first to the peace movement.[7] Jim Warren suggests PGP's wide dissemination was in response to Senate Bill 266, authored by Senators Biden and DeConcini, which demanded that "...communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications...".[8] WikiLeaks is an example of a politically motivated website: it seeks to "keep governments open".[9]
  5. Website Mirroring: is used as a circumvention tool to bypass censorship blocks on websites. It is a technique that copies the content of a censored website and posts it to other domains and subdomains that are not censored.[10]
  6. Geo-bombing: a technique in which netizens add a geo-tag while editing YouTube videos so that the location of the video can be displayed in Google Earth.
  7. Anonymous blogging: a method of speaking out to a wide audience about human rights issues, government oppression, etc. that utilizes various web tools such as free email accounts, IP masking, and blogging software to preserve a high level of anonymity.[11]

Notable hacktivist events

  • The earliest known instance of hacktivism as documented by Julian Assange is as follows:[12]

    Hacktivism is at least as old as October 1989 when DOE, HEPNET and SPAN (NASA) connected VMS machines world wide were penetrated by the anti-nuclear WANK worm. [...] WANK penetrated machines had their login screens altered to:

     W O R M S    A G A I N S T    N U C L E A R    K I L L E R S
   \__  ____________  _____    ________    ____  ____   __  _____/
    \ \ \    /\    / /    / /\ \       | \ \  | |    | | / /    /
     \ \ \  /  \  / /    / /__\ \      | |\ \ | |    | |/ /    /
      \ \ \/ /\ \/ /    / ______ \     | | \ \| |    | |\ \   /
       \_\  /__\  /____/ /______\ \____| |__\ | |____| |_\ \_/
         \                                                 /
          \    Your System Has Been Officially WANKed     /
    You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war.
  • The first public use of DDoS as a form of protest was the Intervasion of the UK orchestrated by a group called the Zippies on Guy Fawkes Day, 1994.
  • One of the earliest documented hacktivist events was the "Strano Network sit-in", defined "Netstrike", a strike action directed against French government computers in 1995.
  • The term itself was coined by techno-culture writer Jason Sack in a piece about media artist Shu Lea Cheang published in InfoNation in 1995.
  • On the night of Monday, 30 June 1997, at 4:30am the Portuguese hacking group UrBaN Ka0s hacked the site of the Republic of Indonesia and 25 other military and government sites as part of the hacking community campaign against the Indonesian government and the state of affairs in East Timor. This was one of the first mass hacks and the biggest in history.
  • The hacking group milw0rm hacked into the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in 1998, replacing the center's website with an anti-nuclear message; the same message reappeared later that year in what was then an unprecedented mass hack by milw0rm of over 300 websites on the server of hosting company Easyspace.[13]
  • In 1998, the Electronic Disturbance Theater conducted "virtual sit-ins" on the Web sites of the Pentagon and the Mexican government to bring the world's attention to the plight of Indian rights in the Mexican state of Chiapas. A Mexican hacking group took over Mexico's finance department website in support of the same cause.[13]
  • Another one of the more notorious examples of hacktivism, and the continuation of the 1997 attacks, was the modification of more Indonesian web sites with appeals to "Free East Timor" in 1998 by Portuguese hackers.[14]
  • On December 29, 1998, the Legions of the Underground (LoU) declared cyberwar on Iraq and China with the intention of disrupting and disabling internet infrastructure. On January 7, 1999, an international coalition of hackers (including Cult of the Dead Cow, 2600's staff, Phrack's staff, L0pht, and the Chaos Computer Club) issued a joint statement condemning the LoU's declaration of war.[15] The LoU responded by withdrawing its declaration.
  • Hacktivists attempted to disrupt ECHELON (an international electronic communications surveillance network filtering any and all satellite, microwave, cellular, and fiber-optic traffic) by holding "Jam Echelon Day" (JED) on October 21, 1999. On the day, hacktivists attached large keyword lists to many messages, taking advantage of listservers and newsgroups to spread their keywords further. The idea was to give the Echelon computers so many "hits" they overloaded. It is not known whether JED was successful in actually jamming Echelon, although NSA computers were reported to have crashed "inexplicably" in early March, 2000. A second Jam Echelon Day (JEDII) was held in October 2000, however the idea never regained its initial popularity. JED was partly denial-of-service attack and partly agitprop.
  • The Federation of Random Action calls for a virtual sit-in on Occidental Petroleum in support of the U’wa’s protest against drilling on indigenous land during 2001.[16]
  • The Electronic Disturbance Theater and others staged a week of disruption during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, conducting sit-ins against Republican web sites and flooding web sites and communication systems identified with conservative causes. This received mixed reviews from the hacktivist community.[citation needed]
  • The Hackbloc collective started publishing Hack This Zine, a hacktivist research journal
  • Hacktivists worked to slow, block, or reroute traffic for web servers associated with the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum, and the World Bank.[citation needed]
  • Throughout 2006, Electronic Disturbance Theater joined the borderlands Hacklab for a number of virtual sit-ins, against the massacre in Atenco, in solidarity with striking French students and against the Minutemen and immigration laws.[17]
  • On March 25, 2007, hacktivists organized the event freEtech in response to the O'Reilly Etech conference, and started a series of West coast hackmeetings.
  • Electronic Disturbance Theater stages a virtual sit-in against the Michigan Legislature against cuts to Medicaid.
  • On January 21, 2008, a message appeared on YouTube from a group calling itself 'Anonymous'. The group declared "Project Chanology", essentially a war on The Church of Scientology, and promised to systematically expel The Church from the internet. Over the following week, Scientology websites were intermittently knocked offline, and the Church of Scientology moved its website to a host that specializes in protection from denial-of-service attacks.
  • A computer hacker leaks the personal data of 6 million Chileans (including ID card numbers, addresses, telephone numbers and academic records) from government and military servers to the internet, to protest Chile's poor data protection.[18]
  • Throughout early 2008, Chinese hackers have hacked the CNN website on numerous occasions in response to the protests during the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay and claims of biased reporting from western media. The majority of the DDoS attacks took place between March and August, at a time where Chinese nationalistic pride was at an all time high due to the 2008 Olympic Games.[19][20]
  • Electronic Disturbance Theater and the Hacklab stage a virtual sit-in against the war on Iraq and biotech and nanotech war profiteers, on the 5 year anniversary of the war, in solidarity with widespread street actions.
  • Intruders hacked the website of commentator Bill O'Reilly and posted personal details of more than 200 of its subscribers, in retaliation for remarks O'Reilly made on Fox News condemning the attack on Palin's Yahoo email account.[21]
  • In 2008 hacktivists developed a communications and monitoring system for the 2008 RNC protests called Tapatio.
  • In early 2009, the Israeli invasion of Gaza motivated a number of website defacements, denial-of-service attacks, and domain name and account hijackings, from both sides.[22] These attacks are notable in being amongst the first ever politically-motivated domain name hijackings.
  • During the 2009 Iranian election protests, Anonymous played a role in disseminating information to and from Iran by setting up the website Anonymous Iran;[23] they also released a video manifesto to the Iranian government.
  • On August 1, 2009, the Melbourne International Film Festival was forced to shut down its website after DDoS attacks by Chinese vigilantes, in response to Rebiya Kadeer's planned guest appearance, the screening of a film about her which is deemed "anti-China" by Chinese state media, and strong sentiments following the July 2009 Ürümqi riots. The hackers booked out all film sessions on its website, and replaced festival information with the Chinese flag and anti-Kadeer slogans.[24][25]
  • August 24, 2009, New Hacktivism: From Electronic Civil Disobedience to Mixed Reality Performance[26] workshop at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics led by Micha Cárdenas in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • In November 2009, computers of the Climate Research Unit of East Anglia University were hacked, and email purporting to expose a conspiracy by scientists to suppress data that contradicted their conclusions regarding global warming was made available on a Russian FTP server.[27]
  • On February 10, 2010, Anonymous DDoS-attacked Australian government websites against the Australian governments attempt to filter the Internet.
  • On July 23, 2010, European Climate Exchange's website was targeted by hacktivists operating under the name of decocidio #ϴ. The website showed a spoof homepage for around 22 hours in an effort to promote the contention that carbon trading is a false solution to the climate crisis.[28]
  • On December 8, 2010, the websites of both Mastercard and Visa were the subject of an attack by hacktivist group Anonymous, reacting to the two companies' decision to stop processing payments to the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks, following a series of leaks by the site. Mastercard said the attack had no impact on people's ability to use their cards, though there were claims by an unnamed payment firm that their customers had experience a complete loss of service.[29] Anonymous was later blamed for the DDoS attacks on om.nl and politie.nl (Dutch government websites).
  • In January 2011, the websites of the government of Zimbabwe were targeted by anonymous due to censorship of the Wikileaks documents.[30]
  • In January 2011, Anonymous launches DDOS attacks against the Tunisian government websites due to censorship of the Wikileaks documents and the 2010–2011 Tunisian protests.[31] Tunisians were reported to be assisting in these denial-of-service attacks launched by Anonymous.[32] Anonymous released an online message denouncing the government clampdown on recent protests. Anonymous has named their attacks as "Operation Tunisia".[33] Anonymous successfully ddossed eight Tunisian government websites. They planned attacks on Internet Relay Chat networks. An unknown user subsequently attacked Anonymous's website with a ddos on January 5.[34]
  • In January 2011, Anonymous, in response to the 2011 Egyptian protests, attacked Egyptian government websites and voiced support for the people of Egypt.
  • Google worked with engineers from SayNow and Twitter to provide communications for the Egyptian people in response to the government sanctioned internet blackout during the 2011 protests. The result, Speak To Tweet, was a service in which voicemail left by phone was then tweeted via Twitter with a link to the voice message on Google's SayNow.[35]
  • During the Egyptian internet black out, Jan 28- Feb 2 of 2011, Telecomix provided dial up services, and technical support for the Egyptian people.[36]
  • On April 20 2011, hackers took down Sony's PlayStation Network. Anonymous was suspected of hacking PSN for their previous threats to Sony for suing Geohotz, who jailbroke the PlayStation 3 but they later claimed that they didn't. Afterwards, a group of hackers claimed to have 2.2 million credit card numbers from PSN users for sale.
  • In June 2011, LulzSec and Anonymous launched Operation AntiSec, an enormous hactivist operation that a large number of hackers and hacking organizations have taken part in. It has included breaches of many companies and government agencies.
  • On November 5th 2011, a Fire Sale, made famous by the film Live Free or Die Hard, attempt was reportedly made but was a obvious failure but was still the first of its kind. A hacker called AnonymousPEF attempted this with a software acting virus.

Related notions

Media hacking

Media hacking refers to the usage of various electronic media in an innovative or otherwise abnormal fashion for the purpose of conveying a message to as large a number of people as possible, primarily achieved via the World Wide Web.[37][38] A popular and effective means of media hacking is posting on a blog, as one is usually controlled by one or more independent individuals, uninfluenced by outside parties. The concept of social bookmarking, as well as Web-based Internet forums, may cause such a message to be seen by users of other sites as well, increasing its total reach.

Media hacking is commonly employed for political purposes, by both political parties and political dissidents. A good example of this is the 2008 US Election, in which both the Democratic and Republican parties used a wide variety of different media in order to convey relevant messages to an increasingly Internet-oriented audience.[39] At the same time, political dissidents used blogs and other social media like Twitter in order to reply on an individual basis to the Presidential candidates. In particular, sites like Twitter are proving important means in gauging popular support for the candidates, though the site is often used for dissident purposes rather than a show of positive support.[40]

Mobile technology has also become subject to media hacking for political purposes. SMS has been widely used by political dissidents as a means of quickly and effectively organising smart mobs for political action. This has been most effective in the Philippines, where SMS media hacking has twice had a significant impact on whether or not the country's Presidents are elected or removed from office.[41]

Reality hacking

Reality hacking is a term used to describe any phenomenon which emerges from the nonviolent use of illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools in pursuit of politically, socially or culturally subversive ends. These tools include website defacements, URL redirections, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web-site parodies, virtual sit-ins, and virtual sabotage.[citation needed]

Art movements such as Fluxus and Happenings in the 1970s created a climate of receptibility in regard to loose-knit organizations and group activities where spontaneity, a return to primitivist behavior, and an ethics where activities and socially-engaged art practices became tantamount to aesthetic concerns.[clarification needed]

The conflation of these two histories in the mid-to-late 1990s[citation needed] resulted in cross-overs between virtual sit-ins, electronic civil disobedience, denial-of-service attacks, as well as mass protests in relation to groups like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The rise of collectivies, net.art groups, and those concerned with the fluid interchange of technology and real life (often from an environmental concern) gave birth to the practice of "reality hacking".

The 1999 science fiction-action film The Matrix is most responsible for popularizing the simulation hypothesis—the suggestion that reality is in fact a simulation of which those affected by the simulants are generally unaware—and "reality hacking" as reading and understanding the code which represents the activity of the simulated reality environment but also modifying it in order to bend the laws of physics within simulated reality.[original research?]

Reality hacking as a mystical practice is explored in the Gothic-Punk aesthetics-inspired White Wolf urban fantasy role-playing game Mage: The Ascension. In this game, the Reality Coders (also known as Reality Hackers or Reality Crackers) are a faction within the Virtual Adepts, a secret society of mages whose magick revolves around digital technology. They are dedicated to bringing the benefits of cyberspace to real space. To do this, they had to identify, for lack of a better term, the "source code" that allows our Universe to function. And that is what they have been doing ever since. Coders infiltrated a number of levels of society in order to gather the greatest compilation of knowledge ever seen. One of the Coders' more overt agendas is to acclimate the masses to the world that is to come. They spread Virtual Adept ideas through video games and a whole spate of "reality shows" that mimic virtual reality far more than "real" reality. The Reality Coders consider themselves the future of the Virtual Adepts, creating a world in the image of visionaries like Grant Morrison or Terence McKenna.[original research?]

In a location-based game (also known as a pervasive game), reality hacking refers to tapping into phenomena that exist in the real world, and tying them into the game story universe.[42]

Reality hacking relies on tweaking the every-day communications most easily available to individuals with the purpose of awakening the political and community conscience of the larger population. The term first came into use among New York and San Francisco artists, but has since been adopted by a school of political activists centered around culture jamming.

See also



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  2. ^ http://fallwell.com/
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  4. ^ Ruffin, Oxblood (3 June 2004). "Hacktivism, From Here to There". http://www.cultdeadcow.com/cDc_files/cDc-0384.php. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  5. ^ Lemos, Robert (17 May 2006). "Blue Security folds under spammer's wrath". SecurityFocus. http://www.securityfocus.com/news/11392. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  6. ^ Reuters (2010-12-09). "Analysis: WikiLeaks — a new face of cyber-war?". http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/12/09/us-wikileaks-cyberwarfare-amateur-idUSTRE6B81K520101209. Retrieved 2010-12-09. 
  7. ^ "PGP Marks 10th Anniversary". Phil Zimmermann. http://www.philzimmermann.com/EN/news/PGP_10thAnniversary.html. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  8. ^ "The Persecution of Phil Zimmermann, American". Jim Warren. 1996-01-08. http://www.contra.org/pgp/PhilZimmerman.html. Retrieved 2011-02-01. 
  9. ^ "WikiLeaks homepage". WikiLeaks. http://www.wikileaks.ch/. Retrieved 2011-02-01. 
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  13. ^ a b "E-Guerrillas in the mist". Ottawa Citizen. October 27, 1998. http://hrea.org/lists/huridocs-tech/markup/msg00014.html. 
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  22. ^ Graham, Flora (January 14, 2009). "Gaza crisis spills onto the web". BBC News (BBC News Online). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7827293.stm. Retrieved 2009-01-15. 
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  25. ^ [1][dead link]
  26. ^ "New Hacktivism: From Electronic Civil Disobedience to Mixed Reality Performance". Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU. hemi.nyu.edu. August 24, 2009. http://hemisphericinstitute.org/hemi/en/workshops/item/320-09-new-hacktivism-from-electronic-civil-disobedience-to-mixed-reality-performance. Retrieved 2010-07-01. 
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  • hacktivism — UK US /ˈhæktɪvɪzəm/ noun [U] INTERNET, IT ► the activity of using computers to try to achieve political change, for example by attacking websites or illegally entering another computer system: »Hacktivism is one of the key threats that… …   Financial and business terms

  • hacktivism — /hakˈti vi zm/ noun (informal) The practice of hacking into and sabotaging a computer system, esp a government or military one, in order to make a political protest ORIGIN: ↑hack1 and ↑activism • • • hackˈtivist noun …   Useful english dictionary

  • hacktivism — noun The practice of promoting a political agenda by hacking, especially by defacing or disabling websites. See Also: hacktivist …   Wiktionary

  • hacktivism — See: hacktivist …   English dictionary

  • hacktivism — /ˈhæktəvɪzəm/ (say hacktuhvizuhm) noun the activity of people who use their ability as hackers to further a political cause. {hack(er) + (ac)tivism} …  

  • Electronic civil disobedience — Electronic civil disobedience, also known as ECD or cyber civil disobedience, can refer to any type of civil disobedience in which the participants use information technology to carry out their actions. Electronic civil disobedience often… …   Wikipedia

  • Cult of the Dead Cow — cDc Paramedia Logo Origin Lubbock, Texas Country United States Years active 1984 present …   Wikipedia

  • Hacker (computer security) — This article is part of a series on …   Wikipedia

  • TexorcisT — is the nym for Tex Mignog and a punk rock band he led by the same name. [http://TexorcisT.org TexorcisT.org] : [http://texorcist.org/bio.html Bio Page] ] Tex Mignog (aka the TexorcisT)Technologist Tex Mignog (1969 2002), aka the TexoricsT (sic),… …   Wikipedia

  • Net.art — has two definitions:net.art is a group of artists who worked in internet art from 1994. The members are usually referenced as Vuk Ćosić, Jodi.org, Alexei Shulgin, Olia Lialina, Heath Bunting. This group was united as a parody of avantgarde… …   Wikipedia

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