Even in an Off Election Year, Politics Are a Major Cyber Target

Sue Marquette Poremba
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Emerging Security Concerns in 2011

As the barriers to hacking are removed, the number of hackers will rise and the hunt will be on for the quickest route to the biggest payouts.

I heard from the folks at Zscaler today, letting me know the security company's 2011 threat predictions. On the surface, this was not out of the ordinary-I've been hearing from a lot of people with threat predictions for the coming year. The difference with this list, however, is that rather than tell me what the general threat will be, the predictions focus on how the threats will be delivered. Over the coming days, I plan to look at some of these threat presentations a little more closely, and I'm going to start with the one that interests me most personally-political "hacktivism."


In my free time, I'm a political junkie. I watch political commentary like most people watch a football game or an episode of "Glee." In the not-so-distant past, an odd-numbered year would have been an off-year in the election cycle. There are few major elections nationally, and, typically, there is a lull before campaign season. Of course, that's not the reality today, as politicians run non-stop campaigns, and the 24/7 news cycle and cable channels and pundit websites support the feeding frenzy of people like me.


Political activism has always been there, but now, like everything else, activism has moved into the virtual world. But there is a fine line now between activism and cyber crime, as protesters called political "hacktivists" hack into networks to shut down governments or businesses. This especially came to light after the WikiLeaks controversy and the subsequent arrest of Julian Assange. His supporters succeeded in temporarily disabling major websites and did so seemingly overnight with limited means and no centralized leadership structure. Says Zscaler:

Traditional political hacktivism attempts have been conducted by small, well coordinated groups. But now, we find ourselves in an era where complete strangers can quickly organize, coordinate and attack-and do so with relative anonymity. Welcome to the world of flash mob hacktivism! Expect others to be inspired by the attention garnered by Operation Payback and stage similar attacks against corporations or government entities that have garnered negative press attention.

An article at PCTools also sees political hacktivism as an emerging trend in cyberattacks:

Hacktivism, in the broadest sense, refers to the use of digital tools for a political or social cause. The tactics of hacktivism include blocking access to websites, identity theft, virtual sit-ins, and website redirects. Hacktivism is as controversial as traditional activism; some believe that harmful cyberattacks represent a justifiable form of protest while others think that all types of protest should remain peaceful.

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