Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn is no stranger to controversy. The company may produce hardware for some of world’s largest technology companies (most notably Apple, although they also contract with Sony, Microsoft, HP, Dell, and Google, amongst others), but they have been plagued by troubling international news stories branding them as nothing more than a sweat shop. They made international headlines last year when an explosion at a $6 million Apple facility killed two workers, after which it was revealed that safe working conditions were not being observed. And nobody can forget the reports of buildings at their facilities being equipped with netting to stop unhappy employees from plunging to their death (after a rash of suicide attempts wherein workers leapt from the tops of buildings). In short, Foxconn may not be the best company to work for.
And yet, that is not why they were the recent victims of a so called “hacktivist” event. Swagg Security, a new hacktivist group along the lines of Anonymous, recently blazed past the company’s firewall in order to steal and make public usernames and passwords for employees and customers alike. The private information was made available via Pastebin and BitTorrent after the attack, although Foxconn apparently began shutting down servers and limiting outside access as soon as they became aware of the breach. It is unknown if any sensitive information was uncovered in the process (aside from private usernames and passwords), but what is known is that Swagg apparently perpetrated this crime not as a protest of the working conditions at Foxconn, but rather for fun, which hardly recommends them as an activist group.
According to the group tagline, the goal of the organization is “hacking today for an entertaining tomorrow”. And in statements released after their raid on Foxconn they made no secret of the fact that the whole operation was mainly staged for their own enjoyment. The group’s post on Pastebin succinctly summed up their goals; while they briefly lamented the dismal working conditions at Foxconn, it didn’t take them long to admit that their main intent was to have some fun. They admitted, jokingly, that their motivations were unethical. They failed to mention that their antics were also decidedly immature.
While Swagg might not be particularly interested in the ethics of the situation, there are plenty of groups protesting the unfair working conditions employed by Foxconn on behalf of the many big-name tech companies they supply. Organizations like Change.com and SumOfUs have been calling for increased protection for workers at international factories, targeting Apple in particular. Perhaps if they were producing less noteworthy items (like desks, banner stands, or waste bins) nobody would bat an eye. But the fact that this company is manufacturing big-ticket items like iPhones and iPads (along with a slew of other products for their heavy-hitter clients) puts them squarely in the public spotlight. And the Swagg display stands as testament to the vulnerability of their operation. So even though they were only having a little fun, their hack has put Foxconn, Apple, and the problems with their business partnership back on the platter for public consumption, spurring the ongoing conversation. Maybe some good will come out of their prank after all, even if that end was unintentional on the part of Swagg.
Evan Fischer is a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.