Netizen Report: Hacker Research Raises Ethical Questions

Internet connectivity map by Ches of Lumeta. (CC BY 2.0)

Internet interconnectivity map by Ches of Lumeta. (CC BY 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Alex Laverty, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week, our report looks at new research on the insecurity of the global Internet, ISP surveillance practices in a range of countries including Indonesia, and the political influence of “opinion leaders” on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblogging service.


An anonymous person or group released a report that Ars Technica describes as one of the most comprehensive surveys of Internet insecurity to date. Entitled “Internet Census 2012,” data for the report was obtained by conducting a massive, continuous scan of almost 4 billion IP addresses over the course of nine months. According to Reddit poster rep, the person or group used insecure and default passwords to log into devices and turn them into “scanning nodes” for the project. The project also features a detailed map of the global Internet. For many, the report raises ethical questions around hacking as research that can be used for the greater good.

Major banks and media outlets in South Korea underwent a cyber attack on March 20 which caused many of their online banking systems and internal computer networks to crash. South Korean officials claimed that the attack came from China, but later withdrew the allegation. Some experts also suspected that North Korea was responsible for this incident. The attack happened at a particularly sensitive time, as the United States and South Korea prepare to conduct a joint military drill this month that could raise already heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

study commissioned by NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence has argued that civilian hackers conducting online attacks as part of a nation’s cyber warfare efforts could be vulnerable to attacks by foreign entities. The study is not a statement of official policy by NATO, but a consensus view of a large group of legal scholars and practitioners, according to the Washington Times.


Al Jazeera reports that its English and Arabic websites may be blocked in Ethiopia. Google Analytics data shows traffic to both sites plummeting in the fall of 2012; while the Arabic site garnered over 5,000 visits in July, it saw a mere two in September. An anonymous blogger has suggested that Ethiopian censors have been targeting Al Jazeera ever since the network began covering election-related protests in the country.

Former Google China President Kai-Fu Lee published data demonstrating how often posts on his Sina Weibo microblog account have been deleted by Chinese censors.

Global Voices Advocacy analyzed a Hong Kong University study that found that less than 5% of Sina Weibo users form the most active and influential cohort of voices on the site. GVA explores the implications of a select group of bloggers creating most of the content on the site and China’s focus on taming this minority in order to control the platform.

Twitter agreed to block accounts or posts that the Russian government has blacklisted. The posts and accounts, which include content “assisting [in] the distribution of narcotics” and “promoting suicidal thoughts” will be blocked for users with Russian IP addresses.


Last month, a drug cartel in Mexico [es] offered a bounty of nearly US$50,000 in exchange for information about Twitter user @ValorTamaulipas who has been using the platform to report on drug-related crime in the northern state of Tamaulipas. Many people are using citizen media to report on drug violence in Mexico, particularly as traditional news outlets have gone silent in the face of threats from both drug organizations and the government. A new post on Global Voices Advocacy charts the recent history of Mexico's drug war and its effects on both traditional and new media.

A Tunisian blogger has been charged with criminal defamation for alleging that now former Foreign Minister of Tunisia Rafik Abdessalem had misused public funds while in office. The blogger, Olfa Riahi, could face a prison sentence.

The Venezuelan Twitter user (@Uliloa) who was arrested after sending a tweet that mocked recently deceased President Hugo Chavez has been released. Though free, Lourdes Alicia Ortega will have to appear before a court in Venezuela every thirty days for the foreseeable future.


China's Caijing business magazine reported that a university in Guangdong set up a 15-member committee of faculty and students to monitor student discussions on sites such as the microblog service Sina Weibo and messenger service QQ. Committee members are tasked with posting replies to student complaints and “correcting errors in public opinion.” Caijing readers expressed dismay that the committee’s mission to keep tabs on public discourse harkens back to the Red Guards of the China's cultural revolution. The original Caijing report on the committee and subsequent re-postings have since been taken down from the web.

Three Indonesian Internet Service Providers have been accused of spying on their users using the surveillance software FinSpy. The allegation emerges in a report published this month by Citizen Lab which found that as many as 25 countries are infected by FinSpy. The ISPs, Telkom, Biznet, and Matrixnet Global, could face 15 year imprisonment charges if proven guilty.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation collaborated with SHARE Defense to publish two infographics drawn from Google’s semi-annual transparency report. The first shows the quantity of user data requests Google received from governments in the last six months and compared this with the past 3 years. The second offers a comparison between the number of accepted and rejected requests Google processed from different world regions, excluding Africa and China.

National Policy

The Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA) reports that a new draft telecommunications law could be read to encourage online censorship and place higher controls on Internet access in Jordan. JOSA has formally requested that articles of the law that could threaten free expression and Internet openness be removed.

A bill before the House of Commons in the United Kingdom has raised fears of increased fines for bloggers found guilty of libel. While it does not apply to individual blogs, student newspapers, or not-for-profit community newspapers, blogs that produce news material would face such fines.

Amendments to the United States’ Electronic Communications and Privacy Act would require law enforcement authorities to obtain a judicial warrant before requesting access to private emails or other online communication from online communication service providers. The bill would also require law enforcement officials to notify users when their online communications are under investigation.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Microsoft released its first Law Enforcement Requests Report, disclosing publicly for the first time the number of requests for user information it received from government law enforcement agencies this year. The report stated that overall, the company received 75,378 law enforcement requests, 79.8% of which resulted in disclosure of non-content information and 2.2% in the disclosure of customer content. A handful of other Internet companies including Google and Twitter have released transparency reports, but Microsoft’s is the first to reveal how it responds to certain types of requests and explain why it may reject them.

According to London-based social media agency WeAreSocial, the number of Facebook users in Vietnam, where approximately 30 million people use the Internet, has reached 12 million. The company also claimed that Facebook has displaced the local company Zing as the most popular social networking website in this country.

Netizen Activism

Thirty thousand websites have joined together in a campaign opposing the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the United States. The bill’s critics warn that CISPA threatens Internet privacy by authorizing companies to disclose user data to a range of government agencies including the National Security Agency, which is know for its secrecy and limited accountability to the public. Websites and organizations — including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reddit — are posting the Internet Defense League’s interactive banner on their homepages, encouraging privacy advocates to voice their opposition directly to their congressional representatives.

A petition to “save Google Reader” has drawn 12% of its 125,000 signatures from users who live in countries where there is substantial government-imposed Internet censorship, including Iran and China. For many, Google Reader was one of the few ways to access banned content such as foreign blogs.


Publications and Studies

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.