Hacking as a spectator sport: Was it wrong to cheer on LulzSec’s Murdoch attack?

Hacking as a spectator sport: Was it wrong to cheer on LulzSec’s Murdoch attack?

So, the old band got back together for one last gig – or something like that.

As we have already reported, hacker group LulzSec re-emerged earlier, attacking the websites of Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspaper business, News International. Within a few hours, the company had taken down its entire Web presence as a precaution, amid hints that the hackers may have stolen emails from its servers for later release.

While this was all a pretty big story in and of itself, what struck me most was the public reaction on Twitter. As LulzSec’s attack progressed – from displaying a fake Murdoch death story, through redirecting The Sun website to the group’s Twitter account and publishing alleged News International staff phone numbers, to the eventual temporary takedown of all the targeted sites – my Twitter feed was full of people excitedly following along. In fact, it seemed like many of them were cheering LulzSec on.

So, was it wrong to cheer on a group of hackers who were quite clearly breaking the law? Let’s be honest, Murdoch’s UK arm has certainly become one of the Western world’s most hated organisations over the past few weeks. Reports of widespread phone hacking, corrupt dealings with the police and a senior management seemingly intent on doing as little as possible about the chaos all around it have raised the ire of media and the public alike. As such, News International has become, quite rightly, a much-hated organisation.

Still (without wanting to single any particular Twitter users out) the gleeful tone of many of the tweets I saw last night indicated that this was ‘Hacking as a spectator sport’ – something fun to sit back and watch as the chaos unfolded. I’ll admit that I got pretty excited too – after all, no matter what you think of LulzSec’s previous exploits, here they’d picked a target that almost everyone hates right now. The ‘just desserts’ angle of ‘the hackers getting hacked’ was seductive, for sure.

As entertaining as it may have seemed though, in the cold light of a brand new day it’s worth taking stock of exactly what LulzSec did. They persistently, over several hours, attacked a popular website and succeeded in bringing it down. They seem to have revealed usernames and passwords of some News International staff members and may have actual emails to publish at a later date.

No matter now exciting LulzSec’s “High-quality entertainment” might have been to watch – it’s worth remembering that what’s ‘right’ in any situation is purely subjective. LulzSec’s target may have been a popular ‘bogieman’ this time, but what if the next target of an enterprising bunch of ‘hacktivists’ is your favourite company, or some important infrastructure you rely on for your every day life?

People will always protest against things they disagree with, but if that protest spills into breaking the law, that law breaking shouldn’t be ignored – whether you believe in what the protesters’ cause or not.

While I certainly don’t support News International’s phone hacking exploits and the subsequent cover-up in any way, I still feel a little awkward about, even fleetingly, enjoying LulzSec’s latest exploits. Do you?

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