For a relatively new phenomena, hacktivism has really kind of taken the net by storm. It makes sense, though: the Internet is the form of communication, business, social networking....the list goes on. It only makes sense that there would be those that would take a principled stand when its freedoms are being threatened.
I don't really want to have a discussion of the ethics behind their actions, though I will definitely say that I personally see their point of view, for sure. Every single hack I've heard done recently has -to me- been justified. (Such a subjective word!) It's not like they're hacking people's Facebooks and posting porn or something, they are specifically attacking companies and groups that they believed have crossed an ethical line. Even when it's not that righteous, their (claimed) ambitions are to find holes in security for the sake of the companies they are hacking. Very few of the hacks I've heard of have actually resulted in stolen credit card information.
I feel like the hacktivists groups are a lot like Batman. They operate
outside the law, but the end result they aim for is justice. Now we, as
comic book readers and movie-goers, love Batman, but not everyone in
Gotham City loves Batman. Think more of the Nolan films: Batman blows up
rooftops and obliterates cars and generally causes a crapton of damage.
But he does those things because the cops cannot, and often they are the only way to get the bad guy. He is a vigilante, and that means operating outside of the rules. One could argue that the hacktivists groups are of the same vein....but I'd really rather not try to have that argument here.
The real question that I have been pondering is whether or not hacktivism is actually effective. When the SOPA blackout day rolled around, Wikipedia and Reddit and other big, popular sites shut down, in order to draw attention to it. And it actually worked. The votes started to shift from "Yay" to "Nay". It was honestly the first time that I believe I have ever seen 'virtual protesting' work. (Or protesting at all, for that matter.)
Now look at the two big groups: Anonymous and LulzSec. You hear about a new hack from these guys almost every other week, more when Sony throws hissy fits. They have taken down Fox, Sony (numerous times), the CIA, and most recently, the Department of Justice...but what has been the outcome? Were the MegaUpload members released? Did Sony ever apologize to geohot? Has anyone ever reacted in a way to reverse the reason they were hacked in the first place?
But then maybe those are the wrong questions to be asking. Maybe Anonymous and LulzSec actively hacking big websites is different than Wikipedia passively protesting (not that I don't applaud Wiki for doing that!); maybe the goal isn't to change their minds through intimidation. Maybe instead its just to remind those big companies that people have a voice, and more than a voice, a will. That there are people out there that can and will fight back. True, maybe vigilantism has never reversed an ill effect, but who's to say it hasn't prevented those companies from trying to get away with far worse?
I definitely can't say that I agree with everything these groups do (Really, Minecraft, guys? Poor Notch.), but I think I can safely say that I am glad that they are around, especially with acts like SOPA and PIPA actually being considered to pass. Maybe they're not superheroes, and maybe some of them are just downright villains, but I'd much rather live in a 'net with these groups clashing horns than live in one where money buys justice.