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The revolution will not be firewalled: Gabriella Coleman on the ‘hacktivist’ underground

Computer hackers have been very busy this year.

On Monday, as Rupert Murdoch prepared to testify before parliament, computer wizards mocked him by planting a fake news story which claimed the media magnate had died. More seriously, earlier this month some hackers released a bunch of military data including thousands of email passwords. In recent months, the websites of the CIA, Sony, Visa, PBS and many others have all been tampered with by outsiders.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to hack is:  a) to write computer programs for enjoyment or b) to gain access to a computer illegally. Both definitions would apply to the hacking that’s been going on this year.

The most well-known hacker group is Anonymous, a group with roots in the anti-Scientology movement. Not only have they hacked Bank of America and released several of the company’s classified e-mails, they were also involved in taking down government websites in Tunisa and Egypt during the recent uprising in those countries. Anonymous is currently waging a campaign against the city of Orlando for arresting a group that’s been called Food Not Bombs, which has been feeding the homeless without a permit.

Other prominent hackers include LulzSec, which was behind the hackings at and The Sun, and Anti-Sec, short for anti-security, and it’s aimed at exposing security holes in the databases of large corporations.

To get a better idea of who these folks are, and to dig a little more deeply into the subculture, we talked to Gabriella Coleman, a professor of media, culture and communication at New York University. She’s written about and dedicated a lot of time to ethnographic research on computer hackers, their culture and impact on society.