Most are critical of “hacktivism", approve hacking by Gov't

June 29, 2011, 2:14 PM GMT+0

Over the last year, “hacktivism”—a combination of “hacking” and “activism”—has seized the attention of both the public and the press nationwide. Bursting to the fore after Wikileaks released thousands of confidential US documents, “hacktivism” continued to gain notoriety this Spring with the denial of service attacks conducted by the online collective Anonymous in the name of internet freedom and the activities of LulzSec, a group devoted to exploiting security holes, supposedly only for entertainment of its members, and whose “fifty days of mayhem” ended with the group’s disbandment on June 25th.

Yet this explosion of “hacktivist” activity is winning few supporters in the US. A recent YouGov survey shows that Americans are critical of the actions of these groups and the very idea of using hacking for protest. To assess the level of support for these groups, we first asked our respondents whether or not they had heard of any of the groups, with the following results:

  • Wikileaks: 77%
  • Anonymous: 18%
  • LulzSec: 15%

We then asked respondents whether or not they had a favorable opinion of the groups about which they had heard. Our respondents, across the board, had a negative opinion of each group.

  • 55% had a negative view of Wikileaks, while 22% held a positive view. This opinion was strongly polarized according to political ideology. 46% of respondents who identified as Liberal had a positive view of Wikileaks and 33% expressed a negative view. Only 5% of those who identified as Conservative held a positive view and 75% had a negative view.
  • 39% of our respondents had a negative opinion about Anonymous, while 30% held a positive view. While still overall negative, this was the most positive reaction out of any of these groups.
  • 68% expressed a negative view of LulzSec, (56% of whom strongly disapproved) and only 8% had a positive view.

Furthermore, our respondents had a dim view of hacking as a form of social protest in general. 60% of our respondents said that hacking against corporations or organizations for the sake of political causes was never acceptable. On the other side, only 17% said it was sometimes acceptable and a tiny 3% said it was always acceptable.

These results demonstrate that our respondents do not view hacking as an acceptable activity for private citizens.

The public, however, views attacking or disrupting computer systems as an appropriate power for another body: the government. Coming after an announcement that the US would potentially respond to a cyber attack against its computers or networks with conventional war, we asked a few questions to assess the place of hacking in warfare.

  • A clear majority (74%) of respondents thought that using hacking against the computers or the networks of the enemy was acceptable.
  • While not as strong a majority, 56% believed that it was acceptable for the United States to respond to cyber attacks with conventional war.
  • 62% also thought it was acceptable for the United States to use cyber attacks, outside of a state of war, but in circumstances where conventional military operations would normally be used.