The mixture of hacker and activist is a myth

Instead of playing up the hacker angle, which, let's face it, is mind-numbingly tedious by now, system administrators should be the focus of embarrassing and ugly stories, scandalized for their sloth, apathy and indifference.

Hacktivism is a bastardization of the words hack and activism. In truth, it's neither. Rather, it has become a cheapjack pseudo-politically hip moniker for the activities of apolitical teenage miscreants devoid of talent, creativity and passion.

The recent blast of media hype warning of a massive May Day digital attack is drawn from the dicey politics and twisted syntax of strained U.S.-Chinese relations. The alleged hacker activity supposedly emanates from the incident in which a Chinese fighter jock clipped a U.S. spy plane, sending the fighter pilot looking for the lost continent of Atlantis and our plane on an unscheduled island sight-seeing tour.

Even the FBI bought the hype, issuing a dire warning to businesses to be on high alert for an increase of Web site attacks.

But this begs the question: If system administrators are able to somehow flip a switch and immediately employ "extra heightened anti-hacker security measures" on the basis of an urgent FBI warning, why the hell aren't these same administrators ALWAYS in that mode?

Apparently it's because network security in general is playing an endless-loop video drawn from the movie "Forrest Gump," in which our revamped hero now says, all too often: "Network security is like a box of chocolates--you just never know what you're going to get."

Moo Shu politics
It should come as no surprise that, given a corner of the global stage, these self-described hacktivists overnight turned themselves into outraged political beings.

Chinese vandals ran their little pre-mixed programs against less than notable U.S. based Web sites, while freshly brewed red, white and blue American digital patriots "retaliated" against sites based in China.

And as it turns out, in nowhere near the numbers first feared.

Web defacements were littered with broken English--from U.S. and Chinese hackers alike--bragging about their exploits, taunting the other nationality and making less-than-scary threats of "if you think this is bad, just wait until..."

But to call this kind of limp braggadocio hacktivism is like saying Tina's third act at the Ba-Da-Bing carries the passion and sensual nuance of the tango.

"It's interesting to note that Chinese Web sites were being defaced before the spy plane incident and with no political agenda," writes Brian Martin, a co-founder of, a Web site that chronicles and warehouses Web site defacements.

"The hacker known as Pr0phet was on a rant about all the NT systems that were being defaced and was targeting Unix systems instead," Martin writes. "Since most Chinese sites seem to run some version of Unix, they were natural targets. It was only after the media attention over the spy plane incident that Pr0phet included a political message."

This Web vandalism--these newly minted hacktivists, finding their political roots only after being goaded by the media--smacks of all the integrity of someone spray-painting the slogan "Meat is Murder!" on the side of a McDonald's right after finishing a Big Mac meal, super-sized.

The underlying problem with so-called hacktivism is the same that afflicts the armchair activist who believes he or she is 'doing good' by e-mailing Congress a preformatted 150-word rant written by some burned-out advertising executive turned 'grassroots' lobbyist.

The problem is no conviction, no willingness to put any real sacrifice or effort behind your actions. Webster's dictionary defines activism as "a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action."

The most vigorous action taken by these electronic vandals likely comes in those odd spasmodic moments of self-inflicted eroticism.

When this whole notion of marrying activism with digital tools first popped into the consciousness of cyberspace, it intrigued me. I've always believed that digital tools, in the right hands, could be the great equalizer.

Then I remember that the brave kids who, in 1989, stood up to Chinese tanks and that nation's elite troops in Tiananmen Square fueled their activism with little more than fax machines.

And I remember too, that putting your name to an act is infinitely more brave than a drive-by hacking escapade that requires no talent beyond memorizing a few Unix commands--and that may be at the top end of the skill set for these snapperheads.

These kids should give up trying to hide behind "a cause." They are garden-variety juvenile delinquents who rarely cause damage beyond the nuisance stage. They should have their hands slapped, yes, but they don't belong in jail or on trial, certainly not for this level of activity.

And though they don't serve a political purpose, they aren't without a niche in the digital food chain. They are useful in bringing the woeful state of Internet security to the national stage.

But I'd love to see the day when the media starts holding accountable those responsible for network security.

Instead of playing up the hacker angle, which, let's face it, is mind-numbingly tedious by now, system administrators should be the focus of embarrassing and ugly stories, scandalized for their sloth, apathy and indifference.

And, of course, the makers of buggy, insecure software should be ostracized, too. Next time you read about hacktivism don't be fooled--it's nothing of the kind.