What is Hacktivism? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Hacktivism? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Hacktivism?

In the digital age, the battle for social justice and political change has moved beyond street protests and into the realm of hacktivism – a powerful force that combines hacking skills with activism to make an impact. As this form of protest gains traction worldwide, it’s essential to understand hacktivism, its techniques, and the motivations driving hacktivists.

In this blog post, we’ll delve deep into the world of hacktivism, exploring its techniques, targets, prominent groups, and the ethical and legal implications surrounding this controversial form of protest.


  • Hacktivism refers to the use of hacking and cyber attacks to promote or advance political or social causes, often targeting government agencies and corporations.

  • Hacktivists might leak sensitive information, disrupt services with DDoS attacks, or deface websites to draw attention to their cause.

  • While controversial, it demonstrates the power of cyber activities in influencing real-world events and discussions. Notable groups include Anonymous & WikiLeaks.

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Defining Hacktivism

Hacktivism is the fusion of hacking and activism, coming together to achieve political or social goals. It’s a powerful tool in the hands of individuals and groups who seek to disrupt services and draw attention to issues they consider important, such as freedom of information, human rights, or religious beliefs. Hacktivists typically target government agencies, multinational corporations, and other organizations they perceive as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’.

A prominent example of hacktivism is the DDoS attack on Estonia’s internet infrastructure in response to the plan to move a Soviet-era statue in Tallinn. The key difference between hackers and hacktivists lies in their objectives – while both use similar tools and methods, hackers may not always have a specific social cause in mind.

Hacktivism is an ever-evolving phenomenon, with new groups and campaigns emerging regularly. However, the core objective remains the same: to use the power of computer technology to amplify their message and effect change in the world.

Hacktivism Techniques and Strategies

To achieve their goals, hacktivists employ a wide range of techniques, including website defacement, data leaks, DDoS attacks, and anonymous blogging.

In the following sections, we’ll dive deeper into these methods to better understand how hacktivists operate and the strategies they use to advance their causes.

Website Defacement

Website defacement is a common hacktivist technique that involves altering the appearance and content of a targeted website, usually by replacing the homepage with a message of political protest. This method not only disrupts the website’s normal functioning but also amplifies the hacktivist’s message to a wider audience.

Another variation of this technique is website mirroring, which involves copying the content of a censored website and making it available from a different URL. This allows hacktivists to bypass censorship and ensure that their message remains accessible to the public.

Data Leaks

Data leaks play a significant role in hacktivism, as they involve the unauthorized release of sensitive, confidential, or protected data. Hacktivists use data leaks to expose injustices or promote awareness of certain issues by making the information public.

Some notable examples of data leaks include the Panama Papers, the Ashley Madison hack, and the Sony Pictures hack. These high-profile leaks have had widespread consequences, affecting individuals, corporations, and even entire governments, highlighting the power and potential risks associated with hacktivist data leaks.

DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a popular tactic among hacktivists, as they can effectively disrupt services and draw attention to a particular cause. In a DDoS attack, multiple computers flood a target system with requests, overwhelming it and causing it to crash. This prevents legitimate users from accessing the target website or service, causing significant disruption and potential financial loss.

Hacktivists often view DDoS attacks as a form of virtual sit-in or protest, akin to the physical sit-ins of the civil rights era. However, these attacks are considered illegal in many countries, and their use in hacktivist campaigns remains a controversial and hotly debated issue.

Hacktivist Targets and Motivations

Hacktivists are driven by a wide range of motivations, from revenge and ideology to protest and the desire to shame certain organizations or individuals. They often target government agencies, multinational corporations, or other entities they perceive as unjust or unethical.

In the following sections, we’ll explore the common targets of hacktivist actions and the motivations that drive them.

Government Agencies and Corporations

Government agencies and large corporations are frequent targets of hacktivist campaigns, as they often hold highly sensitive information and wield significant power and influence. By targeting these entities, hacktivists aim to expose perceived injustices, hold powerful organizations accountable, and draw attention to their cause.

Some well-known examples of hacktivist attacks on government agencies and corporations include Anonymous’ targeting of the Church of Scientology and the Syrian Electronic Army’s attacks on various government institutions and media organizations. These high-profile attacks demonstrate the potential impact and reach of hacktivist campaigns.

Political and Social Causes

Hacktivist actions are often driven by political and social causes, such as human rights, privacy, and freedom of speech. These motivations play a crucial role in shaping the targets and strategies employed by hacktivist groups.

For instance, Vietnamese hacktivist attacks on Google were reportedly politically motivated and connected to the Operation Aurora attacks that targeted several major companies the previous year. Similarly, DDoS attacks against blogs with political dissent messages in Vietnam aimed to silence opposition to bauxite mining initiatives in the country. These examples highlight the diverse range of political and social causes that inspire hacktivist actions.

Notable Hacktivist Groups and Campaigns

Over the years, numerous hacktivist groups and campaigns have made headlines, shedding light on injustices and sparking global conversations.

In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most influential hacktivist groups and their notable campaigns, such as Anonymous and WikiLeaks.


Anonymous is perhaps the most well-known hacktivist group, responsible for a series of high-profile operations that have targeted organizations like Fox.com, the CIA, and the Sony PlayStation Network. Anonymous members often use the tagline “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” to convey their commitment to their cause and solidarity as a group.

Some of the group’s most notable operations include their campaign against the Church of Scientology and their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite criticism of their tactics, Anonymous has successfully raised awareness of various social and political issues and demonstrated the power of hacktivist campaigns.


WikiLeaks, an independent nonprofit online media organization, has played a significant role in the world of hacktivism. Founded by Julian Assange, WikiLeaks is known for leaking classified documents and emails, drawing attention to various political and social issues.

One of the most controversial impacts of WikiLeaks was its role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, where it leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee, which some argue contributed to Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Other notable leaks include the Iraq War Logs and the video of a U.S. helicopter shooting at civilians, which sparked outrage and debate worldwide.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

The ethical and legal implications of hacktivism are a subject of much debate. Some argue that hacktivist actions cause damage in a world where there are already plenty of opportunities for non-disruptive free speech. Others view hacktivism as a form of peaceful protest akin to civil disobedience, deliberately breaking laws to make a point and advance their cause.

Legally, hacking for a cause is not permitted in most countries. Launching DoS and DDoS attacks, for example, is considered a federal crime in the United States under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and is also illegal in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Website defacement and corporate data theft are similarly considered criminal activities.

The ethical considerations surrounding hacktivism are more nuanced. In some cases, hacktivist actions can be viewed as ethical, particularly if they expose wrongdoing or raise awareness about important social issues. However, the potential harm caused by hacktivist actions, such as financial losses and reputational damage, must also be taken into account when assessing the ethics of hacktivism.

Preventing and Combating Hacktivism

Organizations must be vigilant in protecting themselves from hacktivist attacks and mitigating potential risks. This requires a combination of robust cybersecurity measures and employee education and awareness programs.

In the following sections, we’ll explore these preventative strategies in more detail.

Cybersecurity Measures

Implementing strong cybersecurity measures is essential for protecting an organization from hacktivist attacks. This includes basic security protocols, keeping software up-to-date, and using multifactor authentication. In addition, organizations should employ firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and regularly conduct security audits to identify and address potential vulnerabilities.

Fortinet Security Fabric, for example, uses threat intelligence to detect and respond to hacktivist and other opportunistic attacks that exploit a network’s vulnerabilities. By employing a variety of tools, such as IPS, the Fortinet Security Fabric can safeguard various network architectures, from SD-WANs to virtualized networks, helping organizations stay one step ahead of potential hacktivist attacks.

Employee Education and Awareness

Employee training and awareness programs are crucial in minimizing the risk of insider threats and recognizing potential hacktivist activities. Educating employees on cybersecurity best practices, such as spotting suspicious emails, selecting strong passwords, guarding sensitive information, and maintaining the physical security of devices, can significantly reduce the likelihood of successful hacktivist attacks.

Furthermore, businesses should establish clear protocols for reporting suspicious activity and potential hacktivist threats. By fostering a culture of awareness and vigilance, organizations can better protect themselves from the risks associated with hacktivism and other cyber threats.


In today’s interconnected world, hacktivism has emerged as a powerful force for social and political change. As we’ve explored, hacktivists utilize a range of techniques to advance their causes, targeting government agencies, corporations, and other organizations they perceive as unjust. While the ethical and legal implications of hacktivism remain a subject of debate, it’s clear that organizations must prioritize robust cybersecurity measures and employee education to protect themselves from potential attacks. By understanding the motivations and tactics of hacktivists, we can better appreciate the complexities of this digital form of activism and take the necessary steps to safeguard our digital world.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is the meaning of hacktivism?

Hacktivism is the practice of using technology as a means to bring attention to an issue or cause. Hacktivists usually use computer hacking tactics to disrupt computer systems in order to spread awareness of their cause and achieve their political or social aims.

What is an example of hacktivism?

Hacktivism is a form of digital civil disobedience where activists leverage computer technology and the internet to advance their political or social objectives. For example, a group of hacktivists could launch a DDoS attack to take down a website in order to raise awareness for their cause.

What is the main purpose of hacktivism?

The main purpose of hacktivism is to create awareness and encourage action on political or social issues by using computer systems or networks as tools for protest and resistance. By utilizing digital technologies, hacktivists seek to draw attention to causes they care about and hopefully rally enough support to bring about change.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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