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How familiar are you with hacktivism groups?

“Hacking” is a term we’re taught almost as soon as we start using computers, and many of us are more than familiar with its meaning. In the mid ’90s, a newer term emerged from popular culture: hacktivism. How aware is the American public of hacktivism and the groups associated with it? We conducted a survey to find out.

How familiar are you with hacktivism groups?

What does hacktivism mean?

Hacktivism is a portmanteau of two words: “hacking” and “activism.” Hacktivism is typically when “hacking” is conducted for political or social purposes. In other words, hacktivism is normally performed in the name of some perceived “greater good” rather than for selfish reasons. Hacktivists that take part in the activity strive to remain anonymous but prefer their actions to garner attention and headline grabbing.

Some hacktivist groups are household names for many Americans, with the larger organizations even dominating national news. Perhaps the most famous of all the hacktivist groups is Anonymous, which frequently adopts a cause it deems worthy and directs all its efforts to disrupting and shutting down the online services of its targets.

Hacktivism: Social cause or cybercrime?

A lot of what hacktivists do are criminal acts. However, when the cause is just, many people still find themselves on the side of the hackers. The latest example is the hacktivist group Anonymous declaring cyberwar against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

“Hacktivism has long been the subject of a debate on whether it should be perceived as a social cause or a cybercrime. Attacks made against the state are most often viewed as illegal,” says Daniel Markuson, a digital security expert at NordVPN. “Whether many famous groups perform data breaches for good intentions, there are still a lot of bad actors out there that want a piece of the our data. You should take security into your own hands by using trusted security apps, like NordVPN, whenever possible, so your online traffic is completely encrypted.”

Many hacker groups won’t stick to a single cause forever. You might find yourself agreeing with one of their attack campaigns but completely against their next planned target. Just remember one thing when it comes to dealing with any kind of hacker group: stay far away from whichever organization is in its sights. Your personal data may become collateral damage in the event of a breach.

Hacktivism survey results

NordVPN conducted a survey to gauge how aware the American public was of the larger and more influential hacktivist and hacker groups online. For example, while 48% of participants had heard of Anonymous, only 55% of those could correctly identify them as the perpetrators of several notorious Sony hacks throughout the years. Here’s how the rest of the infamous hacker groups faired when it came to recognition:

  • Masters of Deception. This group is one of the most famous, but only 19% of Americans have heard of it. Of those 19%, only 40% could correctly identify the group as exploiting telephone company infrastructure.
  • Chaos Computer Club. Only 18% of Americans have heard of the largest hacker group in Europe. Of the 18%, 30% know the CCC managed to spoof Apple and Samsung biometrics.
  • Lizard Squad. While seemingly just as unknown as the other hacker groups at 17%, this group is infamous in gaming circles. Thirty-six percent of those who are aware of Lizard Squad know it likes to target video game networks, primarily the online networks of Xbox and Playstation.
  • LulzSec. Despite only being known by 14% of Americans, it perhaps targets the most high-status victims. Thirty-six percent of those who know of LulzSec are aware that they’ve attacked Sony Pictures, FoxNews, and the CIA.

How much do Americans know about hacktivists?

The survey results show that while 70% of Americans don’t know what hacktivism is, the remaining 30% are mostly in favor of their actions. Only 27% of Americans in the know view the actions of a hacktivist as negative. Backing up this statistic, only 17% of participants disagree with allowing hacktivism to be the equivalent of a peaceful protest — they see hacktivism as an extension of free speech.

Forty-three percent of Americans are able to discern the differences between a hacker and a hacktivist, with 48% of those surveyed correctly defining hacktivism as “the act of misusing a computer system or network for a socially or politically motivated reason.”

When it comes to general hacker/hacktivist knowledge, it seems that many survey participants are lacking. Only 23% of those surveyed knew the differences between different types of hackers. Here’s a useful refresher:

  • Black hat hacker: A black hat hacker is the classic criminal hacker looking to break into computer networks for personal gain.
  • White hat hacker: Typically hired by a company, these types of hackers will try to break into a computer network or system for the purpose of exposing security flaws that may have been missed in development.
  • Grey hat hacker: Rather than someone seeking out their services, these hackers may take it upon themselves to identify the security flaws in a system, let the owners know, and request a payment to fix the problem themselves. Much of their motivation lies in making a name for themselves. They are essentially white hat hackers without permission from those they are hacking.

Can the average American hack devices?

The survey results show that 23% of Americans know how to hack a device, and another 20% are curious to learn. Of the 23% self-identified hackers, we asked what may motivate someone to hack a company.

The largest group, at 35%, claimed to merely want the skill set in case the skillset was useful in the future. Coming in second at 29% were those who said they wouldn’t target a person or a company. Twenty-eight percent indulged their inner hacktivist and said they would hack a company to “punish institutions or multinational corporations which I disapprove (e.g. environment-polluting companies).”

Should you protect yourself from hacktivists?

Many hacktivist groups target giant, faceless corporations that they perceive are draining our planet of its resources, so it’s easy for some people to sympathize with their cause. However, you need to take into account that hacktivist and hacker groups are rarely ever hellbent on a single cause or purpose for very long. A hacktivist group could prop up the flag of one of your nearest and dearest charities. The next month, that same hacker group could be targeting an incredibly useful service you frequently indulge in.

It’s best to steer clear from such groups and make a habit of maintaining healthy cybersecurity practices. User data could easily become collateral damage in the event of a cyberattack. By keeping yourself hidden and protected at all times when browsing the net, you already reduce your chances of getting caught up in something bigger. A useful privacy app like NordVPN is the perfect tool for peace of mind when using the internet.