Cyberwarriors

By Denning, Dorothy | Harvard International Review, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Cyberwarriors


Denning, Dorothy, Harvard International Review


Activists and Terrorists Turn to Cyberspace

As Palestinian rioters clashed with Israeli forces in the fall of 2000, Arab and Israeli hackers took to cyberspace to participate in the action. According to the Middle Last Intelligence Bulletin, the cyberwar began in October shortly after the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah movement abducted three Israeli soldiers. Pro-Israeli hackers responded by crippling the guerrilla movement website, which had been displaying videos of Palestinians

killed in recent clashes and which had called on Palestinians to kill as many Israelis as possible. Pro-Palestinian hackers retaliated, shutting down the main Israeli government website and the Israeli Foreign Ministry website. From there the cyberwar escalated. An Israeli hacker planted the Star of David and some Hebrew text on one of Hezbollah's mirror sites, while pro-Palestinian hackers attacked additional Israeli sites, including those of the Bank of Israel and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Hackers from as far away as North and South America joined the fray, sabotaging over 100 websites and disrupting Internet service in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The Israeli-Palestinian cyberwar illustrates a growing tend. Cyberspace is increasingly used as a digital battleground for rebels, freedom fighters, terrorists, and others who employ hacking tools to protest and participate in broader conflicts. The term "hacktivism," a fusion of hacking with activism, is often used to describe this activity. A related term, "cyberterrorism," refers to activity of a terrorist nature. However, whereas hacktivism is real and widespread, cyberterrorism exists only in theory. Terrorist groups are using the Internet, but they still prefer bombs to bytes as a means of inciting terror.

Hacktivists see cyberspace as a means for nonstate actors to enter arenas of conflict, and to do so across international borders. They believe that nation-states are not the only actors with the authority to engage in war and aggression. And unlike nation-states, hacker warriors are not constrained by the "law of war" or the Charter of the United Nations. They often initiate the use of aggression and needlessly attack civilian systems.

Hacktivism is a relatively recent phenomenon. One early incident took place in October 1989, when antinuclear hackers released a computer worm into the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration SPAN network. The worm carried the message, "Worms Against Nuclear Killers... Your System Has Been Officically [sic] WANKed.... You talk of times of peace for all, and then prepare for war." At the time of the attack, anti-nuclear protesters were trying (unsuccessfully) to stop the launch of the shuttle that carried the plutonium-fueled Galileo probe on its initial leg to Jupiter. The source of the attack was never identified, but some evidence suggested that it might have come from hackers in Australia.

In recent years, hacktivism has become a common occurrence worldwide. It accounts for a substantial fraction of all cyberspace attacks, which are also motivated by fun, curiosity, profit, and personal revenge. Hacktivism is likely to become even more popular as the Internet continues to grow and spread throughout the world. It is easy to carry out and offers many advantages over physical forms of protest and attack.

The Attraction of Hacktivism

For activists, hacktivism has several attractive features, not the least of which is global visibility. By altering the content on popular websites, hacktivists can spread their messages and names to large audiences. Even after the sites are restored, mirrors of the hacked pages are archived on sites such as Attrition.org, where they can be viewed by anyone at any time and from anywhere. Also, the news media are cinated by cyberattacks and are quick to report them. Once the news stories hit the Internet, they spread quickly around the globe, drawing attention to the hackers as well as to the broader conflict. …

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