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Hacktivism is a type of social or political activism that centers around the act of hacking into computer systems for the express purpose of gaining access to proprietary information or disrupting that system so that it cannot perform efficiently. Unlike hacking that is done for no particular reason, hactivism usually has an underlying motive that is either aimed at discrediting an opposing party or collecting data that can in turn be used to promote the ideals of the hacker rather than those of the party that experiences the hacking.
In some quarters, this type of Internet activism is seen as an act of civil disobedience in which hackers feel free to engage in the activities based on their beliefs that the cause or causes they espouse are ultimately for the common good of all people. This is especially true when the hacking is used as a means to introduce various ideologies to a wider audience. The underlying motive in this scenario is not necessarily to undermine the system that was hacked, but to reach regular users and introduce them to information the hacker believes they have a right to know.
Another term that is often associated with politically motivated hacktivism is patriot hacking. Here, the goal is usually to spread the word about events and political actions that are considered short-term or long-term threats to the basic freedoms currently enjoyed by citizens within a given nation. The goal is usually to alert enough citizens that they will be galvanized into action before these laws can be passed, and preserve their rights.
Hacktivism is also sometimes employed as a means of alerting people to impending threats to the environment. Again, the hope is that the efforts will reach enough people so opposition to those threats is generated and strengthened enough to demand changes that minimize the threat, or eliminate it altogether. At times, this type of hacking may also involve accessing proprietary information and distributing that data without the permission of the individual or organization that is the legal owner of that information.
While there are differences of opinion on the ethics of hacktivism, actions of this type are considered illegal in many countries. As the Internet has continued to become the main source of information for many people, the increased use of this medium to practice what is sometimes termed electronic civil disobedience has led to increasingly stringent laws and regulations that impose fines or allow prosecution of any hacker found engaging in these types of activities. In spite of these laws, many hackers are proficient in masking their identities and evading detection, making it possible for them to continue their hacktivism efforts for whatever cause or causes they espouse.