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Hacktivism: history & stories

Arrow Image originally written for the HBH Zine

It\'s a word spoken by many, but only understood by few. The word dates back to 1996 when it was coined by the hacker Omega, a member of the cDc, Cult of the Dead Cow. Oddly enough, hacktivism began without any real meaning at all. Millions of people all over the world thought that the \"hacktivism\" sounded so cool, that everybody was calling themselves \"hacktivists\" without really understanding what it meant.

As more people became familiar with the word hacktivism, an official definition became more and more in demand. The original hacktivists at Cult of the Dead Cow became mesmerized with the word. They discussed hacktivism in their mailing lists, personal emails, and even at conventions such as Defcon.

The obvious, basic definition of hacktivism would be the fuse of hacking and activism -- hacking for political purposes. But this rather vague definition left too much room for confusion or misunderstandings.

Reid Fleming, one of the original cDc hacktivists, set up a website dedicated to hacktivism. On his site, he displayed Article 19 of the \"Universal Declaration of Human Rights.\" This display began to usher in the true meaning behind hacktivism.

Hacking to protect human rights. However, there was a flaw in the display. The \"Universal Declaration of Human Rights\" was just that, a declaration. It held no political power to fight for. Reid Fleming overcame this by replacing the \"Universal Declaration of Human Rights\" with the \"International Convenant on Civil Political Rights,\" which did indeed have binding power. Article 19 of this new docu<i></i>ment said almost the same thing as the previous docu<i></i>ment:

\"Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expres<i></i>sion;
this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers,
either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art,
or through any other media of his choice.\"
[ ICCPR; Article 19 ]

And so it was set, hacktivism had been defined. It was the fight for the freedom of information, the defense against censorship, the protector of human rights. Hackers everywhere were beginning to take action and stand up for their\'s and other\'s basic civil rights.

One hacker group took hacktivism too far, though. A group known as Legions of the Underground publicly declared \'cyberwar\' against China and Iraq for violating human rights. They began attacks on top-level government systems, attempting to disable the nation\'s networks. Thankfully, many other well-respected hacker groups saw the danger and foolishness in the Legions of the Underground\'s attacks. cDc, l0pht, Phrack, the Chaos Computer Club, and many other well known and respected hackers talked with the Legions of the Underground. They told the Legions that disrupting the nations\' networks would ultimately prevent any possibility of freeing the flow of information for their people. The Legions of the Underground took the advise from them and called off it\'s attacks.

With this, certain rules of engagement were established for hacktivism. Defacements and DDoS attacks are prohibited in the rules of hacktivism. Defacing and DDoS\'ing both violate the webmaster\'s right to freedom of expres<i></i>sion. Nothing of the such was to be done in the name of hacktivism.

The Legions of the Underground did, however, help progress hacktivism. They had put it into practice. This \"re-birth\" of hacktivism got the cDc hacktivists thinking of ways they could put hacktivism to practice. That\'s when they heard of \"The Great Firewall of China.\" The Great Firewall was used by the Chinese government to censor and control what its people saw on the Internet. This State-sponsored censorship was LARGELY discouraged by hacktivists. They brainstormed and programmed twenty-four / seven until they had come up with a program that allowed information to be disguised inside of an image, this is known as steganography. With their creation, hacktivists behind the Great Firewall of China could secretly communicate with their foreign hacktivist friends.

In October 1999, a hacktivist event was staged. It was known as \"Jam Echelon Day.\" ECHELON was a government system that scanned all electronic communication for keywords. Messages containing these keywords were logged and ready to be investigated. On this day, hacktivists asked everybody to swap hundreds of emails filled with keywords. ECHELON was never successfully jammed, but that wasn\'t the point of the day. The point was to raise public awareness of the surveillance system. Some may say that the day was not a success because of it\'s failure to stop ECHELON, but to many it was a success.
The knowledge of the system ECHELON was finally put out into public media. And the awareness that such things were happening was put into the general public.

Another often recalled instance of hacktivism is the eToys vs. etoy issue. An American e-commerce toy company known as eToys decided that it was wealthy and established enough to push away \"nusiances\" out of the picture. A European collective

known as etoy found itself victim to eToys\'s bribery. eToys offered to buy out the etoy website for $500,000 dollars. When they were refused, eToys took legal action. In November 1999 eToys Inc. went to the courts to have shutdown for reasons that etoy denies. These reasons included unfair competition and terrorist activity. Shortly after eToys filed its complaint, Net Solutions shutdown the domain.

This attack against etoy was taken as an attack on the freedom of expres<i></i>sion by hacktivists everywhere. eToys Inc. quickly found itself as the victim of hack attacks that caused the company\'s stock shares to decrease dramatically and overall cause a fast decline in the company\'s profits. eToys finally withdrew from it\'s lawsuit and left to its original owners.

A battle for human rights was fought and won solely by hackers. This win is certainly not the last. It\'s up to us to carry on this message of the free flow of information, the abolition of censorship and surveilance. Continue the fight for justice and peace. Continue the fight for a free Internet and a free society.

The Revolution is Coming....
Hacktivists, Unite!


QReboundon February 27 2006 - 03:53:59
Very Inspiring, Great job Smile
BluMooseon February 27 2006 - 20:23:58
Very nice article Smile But why do all articles suddenly have < i> marks halfway through certain words?
Xeroon March 06 2006 - 17:15:01
That has to do with PHP-Fusion's filtering system. It thinks that if I'm using the word 'document,' I must be attempting to use cross-site scripting, so it does that <i></i> to render it useless.
Uber0non March 06 2007 - 15:42:57
It's great to see a serious article about this subject. Well done Xero Wink
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