Today, if the New York Times published an article covering how and why a hacktivist busted into a computer system, swiped data, and dumped it for the public at large, no one would bat an eye—the organization might even have used the email for some of their reporting. This tactic, however commonplace today, and used by hacktivist crew and nation-state alike, barely existed prior to 2011, even though hypothetically it could have, given existing technical and ideological conditions that had been around for at least a decade.
This talk will unveil the prehistory and history of the hack-and-leak tactic with a focus on material, infrastructural conditions, along with the prominent role played by the hacktivist collective Anonymous in popularizing what I argue is a novel tactic used only sparingly prior to the forceful appearance of the hacktivist wing around 2010. The hack-and-leak stabilized only in 2011, an exceptional year of political ferment characterized by waves of street-based demonstrations and the ascendancy of the hacker as a major geopolitical force. With Anonymous and WikiLeaks, hackers pushed the levers of power in new and far more consequential ways, making hack-and-leaks the stuff of foreign policy briefs and international relations debates. In this period, Anonymous hackers twice stumbled upon newsworthy documents that they then published on accessible platforms like the Pirate Bay or WikiLeaks. Their conspicuous brand of hacking—accompanied by catchy digital posters and videos—lured in media professionals who boosted Anonymous’s profile and by extension raised the profile of this mode of disclosure, ensuring that scattered instances of this method would crystallize into a template for emulation.
*The lecture is open for the public and is followed by a workshop the following day. As the workshop is an internal event, external guests please contact Dr. Johannes Schick by email for registration, indicating their academic title, full name, their institution, their official email address and the title of the event they wish to attend.