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A New Age of Hacktivism

Over the past two years, hacktivism has seen a noticeable increase due to geopolitical conflicts and wars in various regions. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has led to a significant mobilization of both non-state and state-backed actors, forming new groups or joining existing hacker collectives. Hacktivism refers to using computer techniques to further the goals of political or social activism. While activism describes a non-disruptive use of the internet to support a specific cause, hacktivism involves operations that use techniques intending to disrupt but not cause serious harm. Examples of such operations include data theft, website defacements, redirects, and Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks.

It is essential to distinguish between hacktivism and cyberterrorism. Cyber operations that are intended to cause harm to physical property, severe economic damage, or loss of life are referred to as cyberterrorism. The lines between conducting cyber operations under hacktivism, engaging in hostilities, and causing severe damage and harm are becoming increasingly blurry. The cyber landscape has become more complex with ongoing wars and conflicts. There is a new level of convergence between physical (war) and cyber (hacktivism) activities.

The rise of hacktivism has become mainstream and is now considered an inevitable dimension of political conflicts, even those that end up in kinetic clashes between states. The virtual limits of symbolic, sensationalist hacks, vigilantism, , and cyber warfare are being tested. In 2023, we began tracking some of the most active hacktivist groups. One factor that has increased transparency of ongoing hacktivism activity is visibility. We are now able to follow and subscribe to hacktivists' communication channels. Hacktivists frequently use Telegram to communicate, but it is also often misused. While Telegram has attempted to counter malicious activities on its platform, it faces challenges that many digital service providers face. The ability of abusers to return with a new user name, new channel name, or new account and continue as usual poses a significant challenge.

Last September, Telegram banned the main channel of a hacktivist group called Anonymous Sudan, most likely based on their use of bots rather than their engagement in various forms of cyber aggression. The group responded by creating another channel, and their activities continued. Hacktivists target private and organizations alike, and we have seen that hacktivist groups can take down even the most significant national or international websites.

Some hacktivist groups have developed robust Distributed Denial-of-Service () capabilities. In contrast, others could be quieter about their capabilities and impact, applying a language and narrative disproportional to their actual action and effect. In both cases, the result is Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) – the escalation of anxiety, distrust, and disharmony – in an already tense and complex geopolitical context. Such FUD symbolizes a continuous evolution towards ‘cognitive' cyber operations, which aim to influence, persuade, and manipulate rather than disrupt.

Want to read more? Check out the original article available at The Hacker News!

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