Home > Subjects > IT/Technology > What are The Ethics of Hacktivism

What are The Ethics of Hacktivism

  • Introduction
  • Background of topic
  • Ethical and unethical hacking
  • Justification of ethical hacking
  • Deontological and Utilitarian ethics of hacktivism
  • Deontological ethics of hacktivism
  • Utilitarian ethics of hacktivism
  • Conclusion
  • References 


The nature of hacktivism enables hackers to demand anything they want to accomplish by putting pressure on any country’s government agencies in the world. They especially demand human rights, strengthen security systems, and transparency. There have been many effects of hacktivism on society as a whole, whether positive or negative. Hence, to have a general idea of what hacktivism is, how it works, the real objective of such groups, and whether it is ethical or not, we have discussed each part in detail in the following report. Since everyone around us in society has to face complications regarding the ethical dilemma, the philosophers have come up with many theories that have been made for the organizations and government authorities to make regulatory decisions. These theories also keep on updating due to the rapidly changing environment. Nowadays, in the technological era, the market keeps on updating and keeps on bringing new features.

Analyzing The Ethics of Hacktivism

Background of the Topic

Hacktivism is a combination of two words: ‘Hack’ and ‘Activism,’ and the meaning of the two words comprises computer-based techniques used to get information from other person’s devices. This hacking act is not just done for personal financial benefits; instead, it can be done to serve any political agenda or for self-motivated purposes. To break into government or private coordinating networks, techniques such as doxing, defacement, and denial-of-service is used. The people who carry out these tasks are called hackers. Hacktivism can also be referred to as activism because its goal is to bring social change; these changes are brought in a very constructive manner. These activities can be carried out in various ways, such as Anonymous and WikiLeaks, who work to achieve a common goal together. In other words, hacktivists are those individuals who end activities that can be referred to as illegitimate or illegal through a non-violent political procedure. The illegal activities that hacktivism helps in avoiding include theft of information, defacement, and virtual sabotage. There is no doubt that if used inappropriately, hacktivism can be very harmful, and hence there are certain norms that the hackers have to abide by to be trusted for their services. These rules and regulations are not set according to the traditional set of values that rely completely on the theoretical side of the ethical theories; instead, they are given their space, and boundaries are set for them to work in between them. This freedom of making small decisions by themselves is given because it is practically impossible to bind them to a standard set of guidelines for ethical decision-making.

[sociallocker id=”35370″]

It was in 2011 when hacktivism was at its peak, and various hacking-related incidents took place. During that time Notorious group was quite famous since it became successful breaking out into many organizations’ sensitive information such as personal details of an individual’s credit cards and disabled police security systems. These activities took place, not for any financial gains instead of oppression against internet censorship. This is why hacktivist differentiates themselves from the cybercriminals that tend to breach organizational data only for financial gains. These hacker groups also challenge the government authorities and organizations that go against any moral guidelines. Though hacktivism is not an entirely dangerous and damaging way of communicating a message, it is still considered to be destructive. It is considered to be the most unpredictable security risk. There are three hacktivist groups: the white hat hacker, the grey hat hacker, and the black hat hacker. The white hat hackers are the most ethical hackers. They tend to use anti- malicious techniques to crack down security networks. Secondly, the grey hat hackers tend to have a very vague code of conduct to follow and are willing to break any norms to breach into any networks. Last but not the least come to the black hat hackers who do not care about the norms that are set and generally perform the tasks and crack the security system because they know how to do it. Over the span of years, hacktivism has developed itself into a powerful virtual tool that can cause major disruptions that could interrupt the day-to-day processes. The companies should take proper corrective measures to ensure the safety of their security systems; they should apply regular checkups, update their software’s also, they should train their employees and educate them regarding the latest updates in order to minimize any possibility of theft or virtual attacks. It is also considered that the rise in hacktivism is due to the increase in geopolitical volatility. Thus it can be safely said that hacktivism tends to take place in waves that are powered by political events. The problem related to the topic hacktivism and the concept of hacking is actually not because of lack of information among us; instead, this is because of all the questions that arise and the theories and perspectives of different people. Hence, defining hacktivism as ethical or unethical depends on various facts and figures that have to be incorporated before reaching out to the final conclusion.

Ethical and Unethical Hacking

A major question that is asked by most people is whether hacking can be justified? Or whether it can be claimed as ethical?

Hacking comprises of in-ethical, unethical, and ethical perspective. In-ethical hacking includes the hacking procedure that does not take into account any preset ethical values and norms. This type of hacking does not signify unethical practices; instead, it only eliminates the legal obstacles and thereby raises the risk of direct immoral behavior. On the other hand, ethical hacking cannot be explained in a very straightforward manner.  There are certain terminologies that need to be understood first in order to get an idea about ethical hacking and its procedure. First of all, prima facie unethical hacking is when it contradicts at least one ethical standard or moral guideline. Whereas, prima facie ethical or unethical takes into account all the possible circumstances and then determines all the possible reasons before making any judgments. According to this, non-prima facie unethical hacking can be considered as a hacking procedure that incorporates all the ethical values and moral standards. Does this mean non-prima facie unethical hacking should be considered as ethical? If we overview the concept, this will cause a very restrictive definition, which will make it impossible to term any hacking as ethical. In real life, it is practically not possible to make the hacking completely ethical without breaching any ethical code of conduct. Hence, the ethical values have to be prioritized according to the situation, and a generalized definition of ethical hacking should not be limited only to the concept of non-prima facie unethical hacking as it would be of no use then. The prima unethical hacking can also be further divided into three more categories:

  1. The first category incorporates one ethical guideline being breached, which can be justified by the fact “all things considered’. This category is known as morally problematic.
  2. The second category includes taking into account both legal reasons related to the problem where the action is not the right one. This category is referred to as non (ethically) optimal (weakly unethical).
  3. The third category includes a situation if there is a good moral justification not to carry out the action; e.g., the action infringes an essential moral obligation. This category is referred to as ethically impermissible.

The hacker cannot behave in any manner against the interest of the organization in order to be legitimate, and also it should not induce the company to halt a weakly immoral activity by blackmail the organization as a whole. An individual involved in this process should not get deeper into the investigation to obtain further information that is not relevant to their work or, in other words, out of their scope. The manner in which the word ‘ethical hacking’ is used seems to simply assume a straightforward and arbitrary solution to the value balance issue. There are a number of factors that should be given the topmost priority, which may include refraining from any activity that can result in a negative impact on the company. Secondly, they should only work between the boundaries that are set for them and, last but not least, completing the task in such a manner that the person earns a good reputation of being trustworthy. These three practices mentioned above should not contradict with any other thing if followed properly. Also, these ethical hackers tend to behave in such a manner that if they work without the permission of the organization, recruiting them for their services would be illegal. There is a new definition that has been generated for an ethical hacker, which says, hacking may be called ethical if, in a given sense, it adequately follows ethical norms and fundamental concepts at stake in relation to a specific context. The main objective of having a new definition is to have a proper distinction between the two concepts. This basically explains how ethical judgments cannot be reduced to the priority of business-oriented principles, and hence the definition of ethics should not be limited to the certification of ethics.

Justification of Ethical Hacking

Though it is quite evitable that due to the hacking of networks, big companies face a major issue of important information being stolen, and hence the white hat hackers are also required to ensure security. Are these hackings that take place justifiable in any sense?

Firstly, these hacks can help an organization to demonstrate any loopholes in their security system. This can enable a firm to know what their weak points are and what the areas that they have to work on are. For example, the system of a well-known company Sony was hacked, in order for the firm to know its holes in security. The company has personal data of so many individuals and should be able to defend themselves from small attacks. Hence, with the help of these hackers, the business can identify the problem and work accordingly in order to benefit the organization. Secondly, hacks can be used as an artistic expression. Hacks can enable powerful and productive creative communication within an organization’s network. There are various examples of such artistic expressions. For example, there are hacks of toys that, if enabled, allows to use all the sound available and also the creation of customized bar codes for scanner registration. Thirdly, Hackers are very important in terms of political statements. Anonymous is a group of hackers that have a political motive. These groups hack upon companies or groups to know about any illegal activities that might harm the political aims of the government. There are circumstances where hackers reveal sensitive information of government regarding the internal affairs to the general public, which may result in being harmful, and hence such activities need to be checked and kept an eye on. This shows the importance of hackers for the government agencies to keep the data secured and out of the reach of anyone else. Last but not least, hackers can help to reveal illegal activities such as corruption, corporate malpractices, or any other criminal activities that are taking place in the area. If a particular hack helps track any criminal activity which can be avoided if known, then hacking can be justified as it is for the betterment of the society. The same can be said for corruption and corporate malpractices. If, by any chance, the hack can track such activities, the information can be provided to the public. This will have in improving the environment of the society since the crime rate will probably fall after such actions are taken. On another note, the question of whether hacktivism is legally right or not totally depends on the scenario that we are in. A situation in which an innocent third party is not affected negatively, then the overall concept of hacktivism can be justified. There are a variety of positions that are inspired by the concept of hacktivism. Moreover, the other cause of hacktivism can be to further the basic rights of human beings and help by intervening with the government institutions that are violating those rights.  One major aspect that leads to justifying an act of civil disobedience is that the people committing the act are responsible and accountable for such actions. Also, the hacking process should not consist of personal profit. In order to avoid any suspicion on their activities, hacktivists should work in such a manner that their activities do not result in any abnormal profits. Last but not least, the hacktivist should be willing to accept the consequences that would take place with their actions or the services that they provide.

Deontological and Utilitarian Ethics of Hacktivism

Deontological Ethics of Hacktivism   

Deontology is a moral concept that is generally gained popularity in the form of Kantian ethics. This theory mainly focuses on its own practices and actions rather than the consequences of the action. In the deontological aspect, there are a number of ethical guidelines that must be fulfilled, and there are certain actions that are considered to be either right or wrong. One of the most important aspects of this theory entails to why a particular action is termed as right or wrong. According to this theory, if every person in the society can perform a task or action without causing destruction, then that particular action can be termed as right. The deontological theory is very important in the ethics of hacktivism, and most of the people who oppose hacktivism claim that all cases of hacking should be termed as wrong. Hence, the theory suggests that if every individual starts hacking, it will get dangerous for our surroundings and hence should be termed as wrong. According to Eugene Spafford, although hacking is unethical, in some cases, it becomes essential to do a certain task to avoid a greater loss of society. He also argued that such cases are very rare, and there is nothing to worry about.

Spafford faced two very major issues; firstly, to take any action that is termed as unethical in order to avoid any possible greater loss can result in inconsistency, and secondly, in the viewpoint of Spafford, hacktivism can only be in a very rare situation. In order to conclude, it can be fairly said that according to the deontological ethical approach, hacktivism is claimed as wrong no matter what, and no exception is given to any scenario that might arise. Overall if we study the concept deeply, it can be understood that deontological ethics is logical and very well served, but in terms of hacktivism, its use is highly suspected.

Utilitarian Ethics of Hacktivism

Utilitarianism is also an ethical concept that differentiates between what is right and wrong, depending on the outcomes. This concept states that the best choice, which is most ethical, depends on the action that will consider the good of the highest number of people. It basically considers the consequences of an action or activity and question if it optimizes satisfaction while eliminating pain. Since it is impossible for someone to predict the future, it gets very uncertain to know whether the result of it will be positive or negative for the whole society. Not only this but utilitarianism also faces problems when taking into account the values of justice and the basic rights of individuals. As the only hacker group that is motivated to do a certain task that may be cause harm to the third party is black hat hackers, according to utilitarianism, only this group should be entitled as unethical. Kant’s maxims lay down personal guidelines for self-conduct that are equally valued by other individuals, and his categorical imperative seeks to examine the motives for the behavior of people. Trusted and protected trust in the services of white hat hackers is essential in order to achieve the best level of security network for the society, which is termed as ethical according to the utilitarian concept. The utilitarian concept states that a situation that provides more good is termed as good, but if that same situation causes greater harm in the long run than the benefit than that action should not be performed. The centralized idea of this theory suggests that the hacking takes place without the consent of the party, knowing it has to be deemed as unethical, which is usually done by black hat hackers for personal financial gains. Such hacking causes large destruction as companies face the loss of sensitive data, which they cannot share with any one. Hence, such hacking cannot be justified under any circumstances.


To conclude, it is quite evident that hacktivism cannot be deemed as ethical in every situation or in most of the circumstances. There are a number of scenarios where it gets essential for hacktivism, which are discussed in very detail above. Under such scenarios, no third party is being harmed, and hence such hacking can be justified. Also, there is an increasing need for a new framework for the future for proper analysis of hacktivism since the current theories are unable to reach a proper conclusion regarding the concept of hacktivism. In order to prepare a proper framework and make it successful in the future, it is necessary to study all the cases individually, and they should be assessed properly before making any decision. Proper emphasis should be given before making any decision because, in the end, this framework assesses whether an act can be termed as ethical or unethical and on what basis.

  • (n.d.). Retrieved from “Hacktivism”: about the origins, meaning, and history of online activism.: https://www.firstlinepractitioners.com/hacktivism/
  • (n.d.). Retrieved from A History of Hacktivism: https://mashable.com/2012/03/28/history-of-hacktivism/
  • (n.d.). Retrieved from Hacktivism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacktivism
  • (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/utilitarianism#:~:text=Utilitarianism%20is%20an%20ethical%20theory,good%20for%20the%20greatest%20number.&text=This%20would%20arguably%20produce%20the%20greatest%20good%20for%20the%20greatest%20number.
  • (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/philosophy/investigating-kevin-mitnick-and-computer-hacking-philosophy-essay.php
  • (2015, August 17). Retrieved from Hacktivism 101: A Brief History and Timeline of Notable Incidents: https://www.trendmicro.com/vinfo/us/security/news/cyber-attacks/hacktivism-101-a-brief-history-of-notable-incidents
  • Cupp, T. W. (n.d.). Ethics of Hacktivism.
  • Nicole Radziwill, J. R. (n.d.). The Ethics of Hacking: Should It Be Taught? Retrieved from https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1512/1512.02707.pdf


Related Posts

Leave a Comment