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Ten Hacktivists Who Shook the Web

the ten most important internet activists, from Wikileaks to hacking marathons on the CIA


Until his tragic suicide in January, Swartz was a noted internet activist who encouraged hacktivism, not least in his afterword to Cory Doctorow’s latest novel, Homeland. “It’s up to you to change the system… Let me know if I can help,” he wrote. Perhaps more than anything else, Swartz campaigned for the public to have free access to information and scholarship. His release of legal documents from a system called PACER exemplifies this.


Apparently one of the most prolific and mysterious hacktivists, The Jester (who is deeply critical of Anonymous) claims to be responsible for a large number of DoS (Denial of Service) attacks and hacks against WikiLeaks, Islamist sites, homophobic sites and even the President of Iran. He asserts that he helped create the popular DoS software, XerXeS.


A writer turned hacktivist, Barrett Brown was a key ally of Anonymous who, despite limited technical abilities, became instrumental in how the group represented its actions to the wider world through tip-offs and interviews with news organisations. Currently facing a string of federal charges related to hacking, Brown is also known for his connections to the group of Anons who helped “overthrow the government of Tunisia.”


Sabu co-founded the Anonymous splinter group, LulzSec. While irritating many other hackers and members of Anonymous, LulzSec achieved press notoriety following a 50-day hacking marathon which targeted websites of the CIA, Fox Broadcasting Network and the US Senate among others.


Briton Jake Davis became famous for LulzSec hacking (activities which eventually resulted in his arrest and conviction) but was prior to that, a highly active member of Anonymous while still a teenager. In court in 2011, he pleaded guilty to a charge relating to an attack on the Serious Organised Crime Agency’s (SOCA) website.


Oxblood Ruffin is a Canadian hacker and “Foreign Minister” of the Cult of the Dead Cow network of hacktivists. Cult of the Dead Cow is where the term “hacktivism” was born and members of the group are seen as stalwart proponents of hacking for purposes of political change. Oxblood himself is notable for his outspoken presence in the media, in which he frequently criticises the actions of Anonymous and LulzSec.


Manning, more correctly a “whistleblower” or “informant”, finds himself described these days as a hacktivist by some, thanks to his digital method of disseminating diplomatic cables and his association with the politically motivated group WikiLeaks. Manning downloaded 1.6 GB of classified data from the US military intranet and burnt it onto a CD on which he scrawled, “Lady Gaga.” The contents were later passed to WikiLeaks.


When two members of an Ohio high school football team were charged with the rape of an intoxicated 16-year-old girl, Lostutter decided to take matters into his own hands. In particular, he helped leak a video of the two accused joking about the rape, but also faces charges of hacking a fan page for the football team. Though he denies responsibility for this, he could face a 10 year prison sentence if found guilty. 


A Dutch hacker who has spoken out about the data on citizens stored by governments and the vulnerability of public electronic voting systems. Gonggrijp was involved in WikiLeaks’ Collateral Murder leak and later granted the US Justice Department access to his Twitter account during their WikiLeaks investigation.


Another member of Cult of the Dead Cow, Appelbaum is noteworthy for being a key individual behind the Tor project – hacktivist-friendly software intended to enable online anonymity. It works by sending encrypted relays of information across a distributed network of computers owned by Tor volunteers so that the originator of the traffic is extremely difficult to trace.

* There are many hackers who disagree sharply over what qualifies as “hacktivism.” Some argue that DoSing and website vandalism is simply misadventure, for example. However, widespread popular use of the term indicates a much broader definition. For this reason I decided to present a list of hacktivists which captures the confused and complex nature of this word as it exists in common parlance. 

Correction note: The article has been amended to say that Deric Lostutter 'faces charges' as opposed to 'is charged with' after conflicting reports.