More hacktivist groups such as Anonymous are going online to take down illegal organizations, but observers argued that these groups need to stop playing Robin Hood as their actions could undermine investigations conducted by the proper authorities and tarnish the evidence needed to prosecute the criminals.
Hacktivist group Anonymous, for one, temporarily took down 40 pornographic Web sites on Oct. 24 this year, claiming that the sites were involved in trading images of sexually abused children. A week later, the same group posted an online video that threatened to expose the inner workings of a Mexican drug cartel.
However, such actions were received negatively by Internet Identity (IID) CEO Lars Harvey. He told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the responsibility of taking these illegal organizations down lies with law enforcement authorities, not with hacktivists.
Harvey said hacktivists only intend to show that their targets are vulnerable when they successfully breach these organizations' online operations, and have little other impact.
"The hacktivist groups do no stop the [criminal] groups from rebuilding their operations and continuing their criminal ways. They do not get the criminals successfully prosecuted and put them in prison, and they do not protect the groups' victims," he stated.
On the other hand, governments and law enforcement agencies such as the Interpol are the one that have the "daunting challenge" of operating within the law to prosecute these criminal gangs, permanently shut down their operations and protect the victims these groups prey on, the CEO said.
Thus, it is naïve on the hacktivists' part to assume that the law enforcement agencies are "doing nothing" with regard to investigating and shutting down illegal organizations, and to act on their own accord, Harvey stressed.
Additionally, these hackers might, in turn, be targeted for reprisals in the real world by the criminal gangs for interfering in their activities, he said.
Norbert Kiss, vice president of Astaro Asia, also noted that by hacking into these organizations' servers and removing or manipulating the data, the information then becomes tampered and is inadmissible as proof should a criminal trial take place.
Slippery path to vigilantism
Paul Ducklin, Asia-Pacific head of technology at Sophos, cautioned against such Internet vigilantism, saying these hacktivists are on a "slippery path" as they "take the law into their own hands".
Citing the case of hacktivist group LulzSec hacking into the Arizona Department of Public Safety's server and releasing confidential information on the police and their families because it objected to the U.S. state's attitude toward immigrants, the Sophos executive said in his e-mail that such acts are "vindictive".
"The cops didn't make the laws and their families didn't make them either. Now, they are exposed to retaliation and worse, just [for LulzSec] to make a point," Ducklin stated.
"Perhaps comparing these hacktivists to Robin Hood is perfectly right. After all the concept of Robin Hood as someone who stole from the rich to give to the poor is a load of 'romanticized rubbish'."
The people ZDNet Asia interviewed online expressed mixed feelings toward hacktivist groups, however.
Debbie Yong, a clinic administrator, reckoned there is nothing wrong with what hacktivists are doing as they were "activists" and are fighting for justice and a cause. Rhoda Wong, a public relations professional, added that she would support these acts. "It's like Robin Hood in a way. You're championing the rights of the vulnerable."
Student Rebecca Cheang noted that while the act is "a good thing", the intentions behind such acts are important. However, she was not against these hacktivists as the organizations targeted were illegal.
Another student, Bryan Wong, had other thoughts though, saying "noble" is too strong a word to describe these hacktivists.
"They have good intentions, but bringing down [illegal] sites should be best left to government organizations and the relevant authorities," he said.