In-depth

Will President Trump inspire a hacktivism revival?

Why political upheaval could inspire hacktivists to take to their keyboards again

Whichever side of the political divide you stand on, Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, is a controversial character.

Protesters have gathered in Washington DC to manifest their feelings against his presidency, with solidarity marches planned across the globe.

People haven't only threatened to make their displeasure about the Trump presidency known in person, however. Earlier this week, a man named Juan Soberanis set up a website calling on Americans to launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the White House website during Trump's inauguration today.

Trump, of course, isn't the only politically controversial event happening currently, with Brexit in the UK and the rise of the far right in Europe causing consternation in some quarters as well.

In this heated atmosphere, will cyber attacks once again become regular tools of political protest, and not only a mainstay of cyber criminals and trouble makers?

Hacktivism - a brief history

Hacktivism, where groups launch various types of cyber attacks against targets for political reasons, has been around since the early days of the internet, with the term itself being coined by a member of one of the earliest groups, the Cult of the Dead Cow.

In the early 2010s hacktivism was a favoured tool of groups such as Anonymous, LulzSec and Team Poison. Anonymous, in particular, brought this form of protest into the public eye around about the turn of the decade with "operations" like Project Chanology, Operation Payback and the group's integration with the Occupy movement.

While arrests have certainly dampened the activity of these groups, and better cybersecurity has potentially made their attempts less successful, it's notable that the past several years has also been a time of relative political calm, at least in terms of Western domestic politics.

The resurrection of the hacktivist?

With a return to a more fractious political atmosphere, are we likely to see more online activism again?

The security community is undecided, but feels it's something that is very possible. "We'll just have to wait and see," security researcher Graham Cluley tells IT Pro.

"One thing is clear - America is more obviously divided than it has been in the past, and unrest and dissent these days often spills out onto the internet."

Tammy Moskites, CIO and CISO at cybersecurity company Venafi, says hacktivism is a powerful way of highlighting issues and causing lots of damage in the process.

"Hacktivism has really switched into something that can turn into damaging, impacting and notable events that can really bring something to people's attention," Moskites says. "[Hacktivists] really can cause massive disturbances and disrupt what we do on a day-in and day-out basis and I think that hacktivism is, especially in light of changing political views, something that we might see a rise of again."

Both in light of this potential threat and the ever-present threat of nation-state cyber attacks, governments must be vigilant to protect themselves and their countries.

"Any time a fractious political environment exists, there is the potential for stalemating on legislation and making progress on key initiatives, such as defending our country's critical infrastructure from cyber attacks," Eric O'Neill, Carbon Black's national security strategist, tells IT Pro.

"Cybersecurity should not be a partisan issue," O'Neill continues. "As Donald Trump's administration begins to take shape, there must be clear recognition that hacking is the new espionage and that malicious, nation-state actors will do everything in their power to gain a leg up on the United States. It is critical for the Trump administration to take a serious look at cybersecurity and not simply pay it lip service."

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