Fuelled by the turmoil across the globe and the emergence of internet beyond being just a medium of communication, hacking has taken on a completely different avatar in the recent past. The practice has evolved from being 'illegal means of breaking and entering into computers' for personal gains to a weapon of political protest. With increasing number of government and other high-profile websites being targeted almost everyday, 'hacktivism' seems to have reached its peak.

'Hacktivism', which originates from the combination 'hacking' and 'activism', is often defined as the nonviolent use of illegal or legally ambiguous digital tools - such as web site defacements, redirects, denial-of-service attacks, information theft, web site parodies, virtual sit-ins, and virtual sabotage - in pursuit of political ends.

The recent high-profile targets of 'hacktivists' are listed below:

Italian Government

As a protest against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a prominent online hacker community, identified as Anonymous, launched distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) assaults on the Italian government's website (www.governo.it). According to Italy's Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) news agency, Anonymous cited the political and economic unstability in Italy as the reason for their attacks. In an obvious reference to the sex scandals involving the Prime Minister Berlusconi, the group accused the Italian judiciary of involvement in prostitution, including minors.

DDoS attacks overload websites with a huge number of requests simultaneously. With the computer servers succumbing to the load, the website is rendered unusable.

Sikkim (India) Government

A Kashmiri group allegedly hacked the Sikkim government web site as a protest against the alleged violence in Kashmir. The target was the website of Cultural Affairs and Heritage Department of the Sikkim government (www.sikkim-culture.gov.in). Besides signing off as 'hacked by Zcompany hacking crew', the hackers posted a message for the visitors of the website.

Accompanied by pictures of the agitators on the page, the message read, Everyday hundreds of innocent people are abused, raped and even killed in Palestine and Kashmir by the Indian and Israeli armies, a third of the deaths are children, who are the real soldiers? The child holding a stone or the stranger holding a gun.

Free Kashmir and Palestine, Kashmir + Palestine = one struggle. end the occupation.

Egyptian Government Websites

In the wake of the ongoing upheaval in Egypt, Tunisian hackers operating under 'Anonymous' have vowed to take down Egyptian government websites. A video of hacker Anon.m declaring a cyber war on Egyptian government was posted online by Al Jazeera.

Indicating that the Tunisian attacks are different from the usual denial of service attacks, Anon.m is quoted as saying, I take down security barriers of websites so people can enter and occupy the site, and post their message to the Egyptian government, so they'll know this site is ours now. And they can't block freedom of expression.

Anti-WikiLeaks Corporations:

Under the codename 'Operation Avenge Assange', Anonymous launched DDoS attacks against Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and the Swiss bank PostFinance for withdrawing their services to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. MasterCard and Visa's websites were brought down on December 8. Reports also suggested that Anonymous brought down the Swedish prosecutor's website when Assange was arrested in London and refused bail.

OTHER HIGH PROFILE HACK ATTACKS

While 'hacktivism' generally refers to the attack against authorities launched by a group standing for the commonman, other kinds of warfare has also emerged on the internet. There have been instances of hackers taking rivalry between two countries on to the battlefield of internet, while government agencies have also tried their hands at hacking websites of organisation or agencies percieved as anti-government. Also, the original motivation of monetary benefits has also not completely faded away in the hacker community. The following are few instances that exemplify the other types of hack attacks:

Nasdaq

As per reports, hackers have repeatedly entered the network of the company that runs the Nasdaq Stock Market during the past year. Feds, who are probing into the breach, are considering a long list of motives - from theft of trade secrets to unlawful financial gain. Threat to the national security is also not being ruled out.

Hacker sells admin access to government, military websites

Recently, admin access to several government, military and educational websites from across the globe were put on sale by a hacker. The sites that were breached included the official Italian government website (http://itcgcesaro.gov.it), the Department of Defense Pharmacoeconomic centre (http://pec.ha.osd.mil/) and even the United States Army, Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) (http://cecom.army.mil ).

Jordan News Website

After Jordan's most popular news website, Ammonnews, published a statement critical of the government in the backdrop of protests in Egypt, it was shut down by the security services for several hours on Monday . The chief editor of the website Basel Okoor told the international news agency, AFP, that before the website was shut down the media outlet received a message, which said You are working against the interests of the state, we are going to hack you.

The personal email accounts of staff had been hacked as well. Ammon called it piracy and anonymous attacks.

Indo-Pak Cyber War

Hackers took the long-standing Indo-Pak conflict online in December 2010 by launching a series of attacks and counter-attacks. In retaliation to an alleged hacking attempt on 40 Pakistani government websites, Pakistan Cyber Army launched a massive attack on as many as 270 Indian websites, including that of the country's premier probe agency, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).