An Early History of Politically Motivated Hacking

Years ago there was a “rise of hacktivism” paper at Georgetown, but it’s a PDF and mashes a lot of things together with no references. It seems like the Web needs something better.

One of the hard parts about documenting these events is a lack of agreement for terminology, such as “patriot” hacking. Anyone have a hacking dictionary handy? I’m kidding, of course, because the first thing it would say is “crackers”.

Some say being patriotic means defending one’s own country, yet of course that’s too simple. For example would a kid living in Holland with Russian parents who are from Iraq… going to identify along one or more of those lines? Or how many Russian patriots are actually Americans living in Beirut?

Here’s a good one: does an Italian organizing a global political protest to knock France offline (1995) seem less patriotic than the Chinese organizing a global political protest to knock Indonesia offline (1998)? It all depends on interpreting an Italian motive of defending one’s “own” assets versus interpreting the Chinese one.

Without getting into all that, here’s a quick and simple list of early politically motivated hacking:

1986 Patriot Hacking (although arguably corporate espionage for money, there’s definitely a power angle)

Three West German hackers were found guilty today of selling Western military computer codes to the Soviet KGB and given suspended sentences ranging from 14 months to two years. […] A fourth man, 30-year-old Karl Koch [tasked with handing floppy disks to the KGB], who was also arrested in the case, [mysteriously died in a fire] in May. At the trial, which began Jan. 11, all three admitted guilt in obtaining the codes to sell them to a Soviet KGB agent in East Berlin.

1989 Anti-science Hacking (disgruntled worker)

An evolutionary biologist named Joseph Popp came up with a computer-based questionnaire he said would help determine patients’ risk of contracting AIDS, and he distributed 20,000 copies of it to researchers in 90 countries. But the surveys on Popp’s floppy disks were a ruse. When participating scientists loaded the disk, their computers became infected with what would come to be known as a digital version of the AIDS virus.

1989 Anti-nuclear Hacking

Just as NASA began the launch of the Galileo space probe in October of 1989, a controversy began growing around the probe’s nuclear power. Amid this backdrop of international interest, NASA’s top scientists started noticed something odd happening with their work computers. Dr. Suelette Dreyfus, technologist at Melbourne University describes the scene in this way, “The scientists would come in in the morning and put down their cup of coffee and try and log in and they would find that instead of their scientific data, there was a screen that would appear that said “your system has been WANKED!”

1990 Patriot Hacking

Dutch computer hackers stole U.S. military secrets during the Persian Gulf War and offered them to Iraq, computer security experts for the United States said Monday.

1994 Civil Disobedience Hacking

…Guy Fawkes Day, a group of ravers and new-age ‘technopagans’ targeted the UK government with a kind of DDoS attack. “Email bombing” clogged up government PCs, while fax machines spat out sheet after sheet of spam. The act was a protest against Prime Minister John Major’s Criminal Justice Bill, which sought to crack down on raves by outlawing outdoor gatherings playing music “wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

1995 Anti-nuclear Hacking

A group in Italy called Strano Network led by Tommaso Tozzi used a “net-strike” to gather global protest against the French government.

1996 Civil Disobedience Hacking

Beginning Sept. 6 and continuing through at least last Tuesday, a hacker intent on shutting Panix down successfully did just that, by bombarding the service provider’s servers with a flood of phony connection requests that prevented real requests by legitimate customers from getting through.

1997 Civil Disobedience and Patriot Hacking

Chinese hacking group that last year claimed to have temporarily disabled a Chinese satellite is now forming a new global hacking organization to protest Western investment in the country. In an interview with the Boston-based hacking collective, the Cult of the Dead Cow, the hacker, who calls himself Blondie Wong, said the new group is forming in the US, Canada, and in Europe to take up the cause of fighting human rights abuses in China. […] “Blondie wants anyone who agrees with the strategy of attacking American companies doing business in China to get involved,” [UN consultant] Oxblood said.

1998 Civil Disobedience Hacking

On the eve of Sweden’s general election, Internet saboteurs targeted the Web site of that country’s right-wing Moderates political party, defacing pages and establishing links to the homepages of the left-wing party and a pornography site.

1998 Civil Disobedience Hacking

The hackers, who are part of groups called “Milw0rm” and “Ashtray Lumberjacks,” reportedly broke into the database of a British Web page hosting company called EasySpace. The perpetrators then hijacked the sites listed in the ISP’s database and redirected users to their protest page, which contains a strong antinuclear message along with an image of a nuclear mushroom cloud and a Milw0rm graphic.

1998 Terrorist Hacking

“In 1998, a terrorist guerrilla [the LTTE] organization flooded Sri Lankan embassies with 800 e-mails a day for a two-week period. The messages simply read “We are the Internet Black Tigers and we’re doing this to interrupt your communications.” Intelligence departments characterized it as the first known attack by terrorists against a country’s computer systems.

1998 “Hacktivism“, Civil Disobedience and Active Countermeasures

EDT planned a series of actions for 1998, starting with a response to the Chiapas massacre. In April, Dominguez sent out a series of notes alerting people to the plan: “FLOODNET: TACTICAL VERSION 1.0.” would target the website of President Zedillo, with the goal of bringing attention to the killings. The group bristles now at the idea it intended to bring down the site, but did foresee the possibility that access would be disrupted. […] …a Defense Department spokesperson obliquely took credit for shutting down the digital attack. “Our support personnel were aware of this planned electronic civil disobedience attack and were able to take appropriate countermeasures,” the spokesperson said.

1998 Patriot Hacking

The first Patriotic Hacker communities were established when individuals interested in “cracking,” organized into online communities to share interests and develop expertise. In 1997, a Shanghai hacker known as “Goodwill” founded the first Patriotic Hacker organization known as the “Green Army” from this online community of early hackers. In 1998, the first major Patriotic Hacker attack was triggered by anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia.

1999 Patriot Hacking

A concerted attack involving simultaneous hacking from five countries caused an Irish Internet Service Provider (ISP) to switch off its systems last month. Connect-Ireland, the company affected, believes the Indonesian government is behind the attack. The company has hosted the East Timorese domain–.tp–for the last year and posts material critical of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. […] A spokeswomen for the Indonesian embassy in London denied speculation that the Indonesian government was behind the attack. “How could we organise all those hackers? It is baseless,” she said.

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