Traditionally far-left groups have been carrying out more cyber attacks than physical attacks to subdue their ideological opponents in the US, UK and Canada since the turn of the century, research by Dr. Thomas J. Holt, a professor at Michigan State University specialising in cybercrime, technology, and deviance has revealed.
In his latest research report, Dr. Holt revealed that cyber attacks have now become the weapons of choice among far-left groups, so much so that cyber attacks carried out by such groups outpaced incidents of physical violence between 2000 and 2015.
According to Dr. Holt's research, while there was an increase in cyber attacks during a period of decreased physical violence by far-left groups, the targets of both their online and offline activities remained the same and the same motivations drove their online and offline activities.
"Little work has been done around the use of the internet as an attack space. The bottom line is that these attacks are happening and they’re overlooked. If we don’t get a handle understanding them now, we won’t fully understand the scope of the threats today and how to prevent larger mobilization efforts in the future," he said.
Cyber attacks to promote ideological beliefs
He added that a number of cyber activities of far-left groups aren't necessarily aimed at harming individuals but in exposing the activities of targeted government and private organisations, mostly to promote certain causes like animal rights and conservation of the environment. Even so, their activities could certainly harm individual privacy and data security.
"These kinds of ideologically motivated attacks are devised to have an emotional and economic impact on groups that go against their beliefs. If you visit a company’s website expecting to see one thing and this group has instead hacked the website and posted customers’ personal information, that’s a huge issue for both the company and the consumers.
"If you’re a consumer and you bought a product from one of the victim companies, these attackers would target your data as being associated with something that goes against their ideological beliefs. In another case, the group attacked the federal government by releasing passwords for government agencies," he said.
A major reason why far-left groups are indulging in online violence instead of physical violence is that cyber attacks "generate an economic and emotional impact, draw attention to their cause from the public and may be less likely to lead to arrest", he said, adding that the number of cyber attacks by far-left groups peaked at nine in 2015.
Far-left groups are highly dangerous to society
Dr. Holt believes that such ideological groups are extremely dangerous as they not only expose personal information of customers of targeted organisations, but also acquire personal information about people to harrass them publicly, and use the mask of the Internet to hide their identities. Out of all cyber attacks carried out by far-left groups between 2000 and 2015, only one led to an arrest.
"These groups might strike domestically, but their damage on the web can be widespread and a concurrent risk for companies and consumers alike. It could be even greater," he warned.