Plus ça change
Andrew Conway, a research analyst at message security firm Cloudmark, argues that despite changes in motivation, the demographics of activists remain unchanged.
"The average hacktivist is a young male (few females are involved) in North America, Western Europe or the Middle East. The hacktivist will target those that they see as doing wrong or something immoral and will aim to expose or embarrass the perpetrator. The motive are therefore personal politics and/or ethics."
Target organisations include governments, law enforcement, big businesses and the media.
"Hacktivists often work in groups where mutual reinforcement will convince them that they are righteous in their actions," Conway explains. "However, Hacktivists are not in for the long run and will refocus their attention to the next hack quickly. There are different forms of hacktivism. Some whistle blowers are hacktivists who take action to lift the lid on what they consider to be unjust, targeting employers, the military, or secret government initiatives."
In at least one case, an old-school hacktivist graduated to the ranks of fully-fledged Islamic terrorist, following a spell in prison.
The Daily Mail reports that a member of hacktivist group TeaMp0isoN, Junaid Hussain, skipped bail before resurfacing in Syria as a disciple of ISIS.
Hussain was jailed in youth detention for six months in 2012, after he was convicted of breaking into an email account linked to former UK prime minister Tony Blair, among other attacks. Hussain (AKA "TriCK") also pleaded guilty to flooding the UK's national anti-terrorism hotline with more than 100 automated calls in a denial-of-service attack.
Field of battle
Dr Martin Wright, academic director at the Global Institute of Cyber Intelligence & Security (GICIS), argues that extremist groups are treating cyber-space as a "field of battle" like any other. He warned that all are far more ruthless than earlier terrorist groups.
“With the pro-ISIS attack on TV5Monde, one thing is absolutely clear; by targeting a French media outlet, ISIS was certain to generate a significant amount of publicity," Wright explains. "Aside from the obvious need for everyone to review their cyber-security systems and practices, the publication of the identities of relatives of French military personnel clearly demonstrates the breadth of what ISIS considers ‘legitimate targets’."
"This is a new battleground. While other terrorist organisations such as the Provisional IRA would only target the military and police and not their relatives, etc., the actions of ISIS in inviting attacks on family members has again demonstrated their brutality. By doing so, the Islamic State is seeking to not only terrorise, and thereby undermine the morale of the French military, but also signal that the security services will need to do far more to protect their own."
"It is safe to conclude that ISIS is presuming France will find the cost and effort of combatting such issues so onerous, it will change its foreign policy," he concluded.
Wright raises the possibility that terrorist may form loose alliances of interests with cyber-criminals and others.
"Terrorist groups now work collaboratively and pool resources not only amongst themselves but also with other actors, such as cyber-criminal networks and perhaps semi-governmental organisations who are opposed to the West," he adds.