Hacktivists taking a moral stance against an organisations business is one of the most challenging cyber threats to suppress.
On a number of occasions ‘Anonymous’ the loosely associated international network of activist and hacktivists, have accessed the membership records of the Ku Klux Klan and threatened to make them public as well as shutting down their website on a number of occasions. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, publicly exposed the breadth of the data collection activities of his former employee. Wikileaks, headed by Julian Assange, released over 300,000 United States Army documents regarding the Iraq War. Were these hacktivist activities right or wrong? Well, that depends on your moral compass.
One of the threats from cyber security comes from hacktivist groups whose subversive use of computers and computer networks is to promote a political agenda, or a moral agenda. But morals are a very grey area. All of us has an inbuilt moral compass that was formed by many aspects of our life such as our education, out childhood conditioning, our employment history, our religion and many more. It provides us with an inner sense that distinguishes what is right from what is wrong and functions as a guide (like the needle of a compass) for morally appropriate behaviour.
Disagreement and conflict will occur when morals oppose one another and if a hacktivist takes a stance against you, your organisations, or your company morals then you could be in for a challenging time. For example : Your business is an educational charity, you take significant and ongoing donations from an individual who has legitimately made their fortune from the sale of munitions. Right or wrong? Should a hacktivist make the moral decision that this is wrong and expose this information via the internet for general consumption, does that charity have any recourse? If left unchecked or not discussed internally this fictitious charity maybe leaving itself open to the moral judgement of the crowdsourced hacktivist community.
Another example can be where a disgruntled employee, or customer, decides to set up an anonymous blog about aspects of your company that they believe are morally questionable hoping to gain notoriety and force change. This example is not fictitious and there are many reported cases of this occurring. This includes the 2012 story where a young girl, Martha-Payne, started blogging about the appalling state of school meals. Her blog got over six million views and forced the providers of the meals to make changes.
How can this moral threat be countered? The challenge is to internally openly discuss an organisations operations and determine if anything can be used in a moral argument against them. If it can then an explanation needs to be prepared and a plan of action developed and ready to kick into gear in order to deal with it should it occur. Try to look at your organisation from the point of view of a hacktivist. There are many industries that are necessary, but many may find unpalatable, however a moral case can be made on either side. It’s a fine balancing act.
Your business, if not directly attacked, may even by goaded by a competitor, or an individual, hoping to spur hacktivist organisations into taking action. This was on display recently when Donald Trump called on Russian hackers to find the missing emails from his rival Hilary Clintons private email server, an email server that was morally questionable. Rather than taking any action himself, or action that could be traced back to him, he was publicly stating his moral stance on an issue, a stance he later retracted as a joke, in order to obtain the moral high ground.
To further complicate the moral argument is the globally connected nature of our lives. What occurs in the furthest reaches of the world can be instantly provided in the social feeds of millions. This allows us all to cast a moral judgement, irrespective of if we have all the facts on a topic that may be perfectly acceptable within a historical or cultural framework in the place that it may be happening.
The moral code of business, politics and more is now being policed by ‘the crowd’ and if the crowd have technology available to them and take a dislike to what is being done then they are going to tell the world. This cyber security threat is one of the most challenging and the most difficult to be prepared for and it can be argued that it can be one of the most, if not the most damaging. Disagreements over morals have been ongoing for generations, and like all aspects of our lives have now been digitised. There is no easy answer for this cyber security threat, except to look at it openly and honestly, that’s assuming that the moral code of your organisation will allow for that.