Who are the Real Victims of Hacktivism?

The internet is a wonderfully useful tool. Along with the mass dependence of businesses on technology to promote a collaborative global economy, and society as a whole to enhance our social interactions, the web surely is world wide. Most businesses have a website, our family members are friending us on Facebook, we are following celebrities on Twitter, checking in on Foursquare and streaming movies on Netflix. Recently, the internet has even been at the forefront of political movements and providing a communication channel to areas wrecked by natural disaster.

However, with all of this interconnectivity making communication quicker and easier, there are a whole new set of dangers. For the most part, those taking advantage of the internet, do not think much about how the internet works or how the data is tranferred from international servers to their web browser. Among the casual browsers however, are some tech savvy hackers who are willing and able to use their skills to make their presence and their opinions known. Taking to the web with a vengence against corporations, politicians and, in some cases, entire governments with whom they take umbrage.

If you are a gamer with a PS3 console you are all too aware that the Playstation Network which allows for online multi-player gaming, access to streaming content and online purchases is still down due to an “external intrusion.” In what was to be a big week for Sony with the release of Portal 2, Mortal Kombat, the inFAMOUS 2 beta and the integration of Steam support, the company is now rebuilding the service. It is being speculated the hacktivist group known as “Anonymous” is responsible for forcing the service offline. While the group has publicly denied this particular attack, QuickJump reported on a recent post by “Anonymous” which threatened action “if Sony dares to screw with gamers again . . .”

The Playstation Network hack is not the first time “Anonymous” has been linked with hacktivist activity. Earlier this year, “Anonymous” breached security and took control of systems at HBGary Federal because the company was helping investigate the group and was set to publicly announce their findings. Amid the WikiLeaks controversy, “Anonymous” took up the plight of Julian Assange, perpetrating denial of service attacks against Amazon, Paypal and MasterCard for cutting off WikiLeaks’ accounts. During the height of the political unreast in Egypt, “Anonymous” also bombarded websites of three Egyptian government officials with denial of service attacks, essentially knocking them offline.

Of course, “Anonymous” is not the only black hat on the internet. We all remember the Stuxnet virus. A highly complex virus specifically designed to infect industrial control systems, thought to be targeting an Iranian nuclear plant. Although, who crafted such a sophisticated worm and its true intent and target are still unknown.

The recent outages on Amazon’s cloud service affected a great number of businesses and popular services such as HootSuite, Reddit and Foursquare, who use the web hosting service provided by the online retailing giant. The Amazon outages have not been attributed to hacktivist activities, however, it is the latest example of how the big picture is affecting us all in a very real way in our everyday lives.

These black hat hackers may believe they are serving the greater good, protecting the rights and liberties of the every man with their “Damn the Man” philosophy. Sure, these attacks are costing corporations in lost revenue and diminishing the reputation of executives and government officials targeted. Denial of Service attacks do bring issues to light, but are they sending the right message? Personally, when I cannot access web services, I am not thinking about the alleged wrong the company or person under attack has done. In an economic slump when so many work so hard for even less, I am annoyed when the services I rely on and, in some instances, pay for are not available. When misdirected vengence over a perceived injustice affects my business, hackers curry little favor with me.

So the next time your web services become the target of hacktivist agendas ask yourself, who is really being attacked?