Published: June 1, 2017

First-year PhD student Ethan Hanner was perusing Reddit last semester when he came across a surprising fact about the 2012 Steubenville High School rape case.

“The hacker who released information about the students and coaches ended up getting more jail time than the rapists,” Hanner said, referring to Deric Lostutter, who was sentenced to two years under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Both of the rapists spent less than two years in prison.

Hanner said the story helped solidify the direction for his PhD work – he’ll be focusing on hacktivism and the policies and ethics that surround it. For instance, he wants to explore the ethics of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and website defacement, and the how perceptions of hacktivism differ when it’s citizen vs. government, rather than government vs. government.

“I would like to see what are the appropriate ways to use the Internet for activism, and how can it be done effectively without causing harm for people,” Hanner said. “How should people get involved in a meaningful way beyond just signing online petitions?”

This spring, his PhD work got an additional boost when he won a Mozilla Research Grant. While Hanner is grateful for the monetary aspects of the award, he said he’s most excited about the chance to collaborate with Mozilla’s researchers.    

“I’m looking forward to collaborating with bigger names that can expand the reach of the research, and who can bring up issues I haven’t even thought about,” he said.

Hanner is advised by Assistant Professor Jed Brubaker, whose Identity Lab includes students from the ATLAS Institute, Information Science and Computer Science.