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How Hacktivists Fund Their Operations: A Cybercrime Perspective

Hacktivism is a form of online activism that uses hacking techniques to promote a political or ideological cause. Hacktivists may target websites, networks, or data of governments, corporations, or other entities that they oppose or want to expose.

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However, hacktivism is not only about disrupting or leaking information. According to a report by Israeli cyber-intelligence firm KELA, some hacktivist groups also engage in cybercrime activities to generate revenue and support their operations. These activities include:

Data theft and sale: Hacktivists may steal sensitive data from their targets and sell it on the dark web or other platforms. For example, the Anonymous-affiliated group LulzSec reportedly sold data from Sony, PBS, and other organizations to cybercriminals in 2011.

Malware and botnet distribution: Hacktivists may create or use malware and botnets to infect devices and networks, and then sell access or licenses to other hackers or criminals. For instance, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a pro-Assad group, allegedly used malware and botnets to launch DDoS attacks and spread propaganda.

Ransomware and extortion: Hacktivists may deploy ransomware or other forms of extortion to demand payment from their victims in exchange for restoring access or preventing data exposure. For example, the DarkSide ransomware group claimed to donate part of its profits to charity, while the REvil group threatened to leak data from celebrities and politicians.

Hack-for-hire services: Hacktivists may offer their skills and tools to conduct cyberattacks on behalf of third parties, who may have no political affiliation or agenda.

These cybercrime activities show that hacktivism is not a monolithic phenomenon but, rather, a diverse and complex one. Hacktivists may have different motives, methods, targets, and may collaborate or compete with other actors in the cyber domain. Understanding hacktivist groups’ funding sources and strategies can help develop effective countermeasures and mitigate the risks they pose.

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