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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
Reference:

Hacktivism – a challenge to national security within information society
Akopov Grigory Leonidovich

Doctor of Politics

Professor, department of Socio-Economic Disciplines, Moscow State Technical University of Civil Aviation

344009, Russia, Rostov-On-Don, Sholokhova Street 262V

akopovg@pochta.ru

DOI:

10.7256/1339-3057.2015.3.16403

Review date:

16-09-2015


Publish date:

1-9-2015


Abstract.

This article examines the issues of cyber threats and cyberterrorism. The explanation for this phenomenon is the dynamic information-communication development of the modern society. The article examines the factors that gave rise to cyberterrorism. A special attention is given to the so-called hacktivists – those who commit acts of cyberterrorism without financial gain, but rather to support their political ideas; a number of specific examples of hacktivist activity are being presented. As a result, the governments today are forced to concentrate harder about creation of a cyber-shield to ensure information safety. Among the main conclusions the author substantiates the need to place cyber security as the corner stone of every nation. To ensure information and cyber security and counteract these threads, the author recommends forming cyber forces based on scientific brigades.

Keywords: cyberterrorism, cyber threat, cyber forces, hacker attacks, hacktivism, information sovereignty, cyber shield, information security, cyber security, information society

The modern society is experiencing an ever-growing threat of cyber-attacks, and even though we have already written on the potential and real dangers of transformation from hackers into political terrorists [1], the development of political technologies within modern information society forces us to once again return to this subject.

It is noteworthy that the policy of cyberterrorism, as many other modern political technologies, is developed by the United States. As stated in the report No. RL30735 by the Congressional Research Service of the US Congress: “There are some “cyber threats” that give rise to a general concern. Cyberterrorism includes: political and economic destabilization, sabotage, theft of military and civil assets and resources for political purposes” [2].

It is of no surprise that during disagreements between the United States and the Russian Federation on the issues of Ukraine power struggle and Crimean referendum, the official internet resources of the branches of government, mass media, and largest corporate structures encountered a storm of politically motivated attacks from hackers – “hacktivists”. “Hacktivism” as a phenomenon has a number of definitions. Igor Panarin in his book “Information Warfare and Elections” defined “hacktivism” as “disinterested” hacking for the purpose of political activism [3]. In the same book the author rightly stated that modern hackers became sucked into political games.

The official website of the President of the Russian Federation has been a subject to attacks from hacktivists practically since its launch day. “The recent hacker attack on Kremlin.ru became the strongest attempt ever to destabilize the work of the site” [4], and this is considering the fact that the site of the President of the Russian Federation has been regularly attacked for over ten years. Back in December of 2003, the acting head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) at the time told journalists that “throughout this year just the President’s site suffered approximately 100,000 computer attacks. More than 730,000 attacks on websites of various branches of the government authority have been registered in 2003” [5].

It is likely that in an attempt to destabilize the economic situation during the attack on the site of the President, the hacktivists virtually simultaneously attacked the site of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation [6]. On the same day the hackers were able to halt the work of the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [7]. Especially viciously the hacktivists attacked the leading Russian mass media websites; for quite some time they were able to block sites such as: Rg.ru (Russian Newspaper), Ria.ru (RIA Novosti), Tass.ru (Russian news agency), Lenta.ru [8], Expert.ru, Rusrep.ru (Russian reporter) [9], Vesti.ru, while the site of “Channel One” 1tv.ru was attacked twice in one day. As was stated on the official page of the “Channel One” in Vk.com social network, the cause for the outage was a DDoS-attack from Kiev [11].

The attacks on the television channels were not limited to their internet portals; Russian TV satellites were also being attacked from the territory of Western Ukraine. The Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation stated that there is information suggesting that all attacks were being executed from the territory of Western Ukraine [12].

A few days prior to these events, the site of the TV channel “Russia Today” became the victim of the hacker attacks. The cyberhooligans cracked the portal and replaced the instances of the word “Russian” with “Nazi” in the titles of all articles in English language [13].

On the night of March 15, 2014 the hacktivists attacked the site of the Crimean Referendum (Referendum2014.ru). According to the press spokesman of the internet resource it was the “latest generation DDoS-attack” [14].

A number of hacks executed between March 12 and 14 of 2014 were accompanied by leaks of information acquired by use of unauthorized intrusions. One of the examples was the “hacker group called “Russian Cyber Command” hacking into an information security site “SearchInform” and publishing a large number of its documents” [15]. The hackers allege that “there is a link between SearchInform and FSB, and claim that the company’s products are being used in all major Russian infrastructure companies, including “Veles Capital”, “Rusal”, “Gazprom”, “Sukhoi”, “United Aircraft Corporation”, “Irkut Corporation”, and others” [15].

The Russian media also reported that there have been attacks on other websites of strategically important companies and organizations in the Russian Federation.

The responsibility for most of the attacks was claimed by an international hacking group “Anonymous”, which has previously often taken responsibility for various internet attacks. Anonymous is a hacker movement that advocates “freedom of Internet”. The hackers gained notoriety thanks to a number of large attacks. Thus in May of 2012 the organization took the responsibility for the attacks on the website of the president and the government of the Russian Federation. In the summer of 2011 the Anonymous spread a video message throughout the Internet, in which they called upon their supporters to unite from all over the world and destroy the social network Facebook [16].

The Anonymous group gained most of its notoriety after a number of attacks in defense of the founder of “WikiLeaks” Julian Assange. According to the information of the “NewsInfo” [17], in 2010 the internet portal of a global payment system MasterCard has temporarily suspended its operations due to a cyberattack. The attack on the site was executed in response to Assange’s arrest. In addition to that, the hackers have bombarded the website of a payment system PayPal, which refused to accept donations for WikiLeaks, and the site of the Swiss bank Swiss Post Office, which had frozen the Australian’s assets.

It should be noted that the first to fall victim to the virtual vigilantes was the site of the Swedish Prosecution Authority, which initiated the pursuit of the WikiLeaks founder on the charges of rape, and the financial service Postfinance of the Swiss Post Office, which had frozen Assange’s accounts [18].

In our opinion, the attacks on Assange’s adversaries, acts against the Russian Internet resources, and a number of other organized politically motivated attacks demonstrate an objective threat of the union of hacker groups. The virtual society is prepared for organized acts, and there is a growing threat of a real cyberwar.

It is important to consider that more often than not acts of the hacktivists, who fight for certain political ideas, lead to an appropriate response. Thus after the aforementioned attack on the Russian internet resources, the website of NATO became the subject of a cyberattack. [19]. On the same day the hacktivists published the records of an internet correspondence between the leaders of Ukrainian parties Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform and All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland". The hackers claimed responsibility for this attack on the pages on VK and Facebook [20].

It is hard to disagree with Frank Barnaby, who in his monography “The Future of Terror” claims that a cyberterrorist with a notebook is capable to cause more harm than a terrorist armed with bombs and other explosives [21].

It is namely the international terrorism that actively utilizes computer networks in their operations. Manuel Castells writes on this fact in the second volume “The Power of Identity” [22] of the trilogy “The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture” [23]. Overcoming spreading of cybercrime is difficult, but not impossible if certain measures are put in place. First and foremost, it is necessary to have a clear and consecutive international policy on countering cyberterrorism. Among the main requirements would be high quality intelligence gathering, as well as joint efforts of law enforcement agencies and armed forces aimed at prevention of technogenic and cybernetic terrorism.

Since computer terrorism is the reality of today, it is necessary to legislatively set the obligation for state and private structures to undertake technical measures that would ensure protection of computer networks as one of the most vulnerable elements of the modern society.

This issue is talked about by other specialists as well. In the publication “Cyber Warriors at War”, Dr. Berg Hyacinthe claims that some military operations within the framework of information warfare require new legislative foundation and specific normative measures to counteract possible information threats. In his opinion, success in the wars of the future is attainable by organizing preemptive strikes and taking decisive military actions, executed in a pentagonal synchrony of modern warfare: “land, sea, air, cyberspace, and outer-space” [24].

It seems that in the coming years Russia would have to implement extreme measures to ensure cyber safety. Similar instructions have already been voiced by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin on January 21, 2013, when he ordered the Federal Security Service to form an anti-hacker system [25]. Most of developed nations are already forming cyber forces, and putting effort in establishing cybersecurity. In 2011, President Barack Obama defined a number of measures necessary to ensure the realization of the cybersecurity strategy [26]. In June of 2013 leaders of the United States and China met to discuss the issues of cyberterrorism [27]. A few months prior, Barack Obama addressed the Congress, and stated that the problem of cyberterrorism is a priority for the United States [28]. In addition to that, his address outlined the strategy to form cyber forces to protect the nation from cyber threats.

The issues of cyber threats were discussed in May 2015 by the representatives of the BRICS nations, raising the questions of cyber security, and agreeing to devise joint strategies in the area of ensuring information security [29].

It is noteworthy that the role of cyberattacks is so great that a strong strategy on countering cyber terrorism can serve as an influential argument in political campaign battles. Thus the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in her first official campaign speech on the New York City’s Roosevelt Island stated that “No other country is better prepared to meet emerging threats from cyberattacks…” [30]

In July of 2015 during a meeting with her supporters Hillary Clinton stated: “It's not only the Chinese. We know that other governments—Russia, North Korea, Iran—have either directly or indirectly sponsored hacking” [31].

An objective assessment of the reality of cyber threats substantiates the need for a special attention to the process of cyber security and formation of cyber forces to ensure it.

It is likely that in the coming years Russia and a number of other developed nations will form cyber forces. Such forces can consist of scientific brigades which are being created within Russian armed forces. Namely these scientific brigades can provide the armed forces with the highly qualified specialists capable of creating the cyber-shield and cyber-sword to ensure the information sovereignty of their nation.

The need for a cyber-shield is undeniable. According to the statement by special representative for international cooperation on information security Andrey Krutskikh, in 2014 alone there were 74 million cyberattacks launched against Russia [32]. This is certainly the indicator that substantiates the necessity to establish an information barrier, which could counter the activity of hacktivists and ensure cyber security.

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