Anonymous hacks over Aaron Swartz's death

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t advocate black-hat actions pretty much ever, even simple defacement. But the government’s pursuit of Aaron Swartz is one of those undeniably disproportionate responses to an internet activist for the crime of downloading too many PDFs at the same time. WITH AUTHORIZATION, no less.

What happened here, Anonymous hacking the USSC website to express their outrage at that travesty of justice — I’m fairly sympathetic to that cause. While it had already raised a public outcry, it certainly didn’t get enough of an outcry for the severity of the injustice perpetrated.

The Anonymous video, with text-to-speech of the USSC hack:

The most fascinating part of this is the “warhead” they included in the hack — links to an AES256 encrypted set of files with the names of the Chief Justices of the US as the filename. The files are intended to be spliced together — and Anonymous gave the command to do it, but also included “delete everything on your hard drive” at the end of the command in case you’re one of those types to blindly copy/paste commands into your command line.

The “warhead” will be “set off” by Anonymous releasing the decryption key for the encrypted file. Speculation abounds at what is in them, but Anonymous’ hack says:

The contents are various and we won’t ruin the speculation by revealing them. Suffice it to say, everyone has secrets, and some things are not meant to be public. At a regular interval commencing today, we will choose one media outlet and supply them with heavily redacted partial contents of the file. Any media outlets wishing to be eligible for this program must include within their reporting a means of secure communications.

Of course they won’t want to ruin speculation. That’s how things like this go viral.

In case you weren’t aware, Swartz’s story from that earlier Rolling Stone link:

On January 6th, 2011, MIT and Cambridge police, with the help of special agent Prickett, arrested Swartz on charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony. As blogger Marcy Wheeler suggests, the early involvement of the Secret Service “makes it clear that this was a nationally directed effort to take down Swartz.”

JSTOR chose not to pursue charges against Aaron Swartz – who not only returned all downloaded content, but also ensured it “was not and would not be used, copied, transferred or distributed.” That didn’t stop MIT and the feds from indicting Swartz on 13 felony charges and insisting on prison time.

Ortiz and Heymann charged Swartz under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 29-year-old law, notorious in the legal world for being broadly interpretable. They argued that Swartz accessed MIT and JSTOR computers without “authorization,” despite MIT’s extraordinarily open network policy and Swartz’s legal access to JSTOR content.

Despite admitting that Swartz wasn’t financially motivated by his act – and even after learning that the 26-year-old had battled depression – Ortiz and Heymann refused to offer a deal that didn’t include at least six months of prison time and a guilty plea on all 13 charges. If Swartz chose not to label himself a felon for life, he’d risk the possibility of many years in the slammer.

Bear in mind that Swartz was one of the biggest and most key figures in encouraging big websites to protest the SOPA/PIPA power grabs.

Anonymous hacks over Aaron Swartz's death
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19 thoughts on “Anonymous hacks over Aaron Swartz's death

  1. 1

    I was tortured for almost 3 years by the FBI and their friends only
    because 85 years old man, Roland Sibens(chicago) convinced them that I
    am a terrorist. I was tortured for working on my prosthetic legs in
    the basement. I done absolutely nothing illegal or wrong. They thought
    that in theory it is possible to hide bomb in them. They saw an
    opportunity to get famous, so they were trying to torture me till I
    sign their insane story. They tortured me using more than 100
    different torturing methods and trust to me waterboarding is not how
    they torture nowadays. I dont know where to find justice.

    I think that after 9/11 things got out of control. Freedom fighters
    became tyrants. In 1945, most Germans had an opportunity to learn about Nazis death
    camps. I hope that one day American citizens will get chance to learn about people
    like me, who were tortured with no reason for years.

  2. 5


    I have absolutely no sympathy for this Arron Swartz, little more than a sneering, arrogant, capricious, malicious, self righteous juvenile delinquent who felt it was he and he alone who should decide who owns intellectual property of others.

    We have seen far, far to much of this sort of criminality from these children, little more than self appointed judge, jury and executioner for matters that bruise their tender and delicate political sensibilities.

    From the sociopathic little Australian albino Julian Assange to a festering little collection of pimply faced, pathetic social failures that sit behind computer monitor’s terrorizing private citizens and government for their own sick sense of satisfaction, their warped amusement and their downright vile mechanism to fill the powerless little self inflicted voids in their lives.

    The reality is that this little band of thugs, Anonymous, is doing more to prompt the darkening of the internet than any government or corporation, and that’s a fact. Punks like Arron simply those who will silence all the ammunition they need to say “Look at what Anonymous did!!! we must keep the information safe”……what a farce.

    And when the Internet Light does go out around the world and the dictators once again have free reign to begin mass slaughter anew…..where will these vulgar little failures be?……sitting behind computer screens flaming and trolling each other and masturbating with their blood drenched political hands to their only available social outlet…cyber porn. How laughably typical.

    Now the bloody Swartz family weeps and whines and whimpers… hypocritical…how utterly hipster……

    The fact is that Aaron Swartz puffed himself and played with fire, and as with so many of these tough guys once they are dragged out into the light of day to face the music, went whimpering and scurrying to hide behind Mummies skirts…….what a farce.

    Now this little coward torched his own life out of fear for having to account and pay in full for what he did!!…..what a gutless little bastard.

    If this little worm Swartz had one shred of courage he could have easily taken on the mantle of political prisoner, like Alexsander Solzhenitsyn, and fought from the inside, paying the price for his little game. Or he could have followed the well worn paths of courage of conviction and selfless devotion, path trod by the likes of Nelson Mandela of South Africa, of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, of Tenzin Gyatso of Tibet or Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma….instead he played the role of cowardly, self absorbed hipster to the hilt and snuffed out his own life… marvelous….what a lovely role model for other political activists and objectors of conscience!!

    Aaron Swartz is dead, good riddance, let him rot and let his legacy be one of arrogance, self righteousness and laughable cowardice.

    Let his arrest, his prosecution and his farcical melodrama of a death speak volumes to those other little bastards who climb up on horses of self appointed arbitrators……..

    Good riddance Aaron…….bye bye… won’t be missed.

    Regards, Don Laird
    Edson, Alberta, Canada

  3. 8

    Of course it wasn’t “downloading too many PDFs,” but aside from that, where do you get that he was authorized to do so? He was intentionally circumventing efforts to stop him, wasn’t he?

  4. DC

    I was just wondering what you meant by, “The files are intended to be spliced together — and Anonymous gave the command to do it, but also included “delete everything on your hard drive” at the end of the command in case you’re one of those types to blindly copy/paste commands into your command line.” I’m not tech savvy to this degree, so it all looks rather ominous.

    I understand the concept of ‘splicing’ something together, though not the means to do so, in a technological sense. The major confusion came from needing to “‘delete everything on your hard drive’ at the end of the command in case you’re one of those types to blindly copy/paste commands into your command line.”

    Specifically I don’t know what the command line is, or how blindly copy/pasting things will impact the hard drive. Could I have some laymen terms…like if you were trying to explain it to an idiot. 😀

  5. 11

    DC: It was something like “cat file1* file2* file3* > outputfile && rm -rf /”

    The first part, before the &&, outputs each file in sequence into a separate file. The stuff after the && deletes everything on your hard drive.

  6. DC

    I guess it doesn’t really matter. According to the countless but largely non-mainstream media outlets that are covering this issue, Anonymous will eventually release bits of the files to the public anyway. And without the decryption key, even the “smart” people should be limited in what they can actually do…or so I would speculate.
    I don’t think anyone expects the US government to alter its course because of anything Anonymous might have on them. There really isn’t piece of information shocking enough to cause major ripples. A lot of people already believe the US government is/has been doing terrible things for quite some time, and if it’s too terrible, those that remain unaware are likely to brush it off as conspiracy.
    This whole operation, and I don’t seek to offend anyone, is based on revenge. There won’t be a change of policy, but at least Anonymous can say they tried…that they were “forced” to detonate their political cluster bomb.
    Considering all the chaos that is being thrust upon the world already, this might not register as much of a blip. If anything, the mainstream media might use the story as a distraction from the real problems at hand, i.e. Gun Control, Syria, the Benghazi cover-up, the weakening US economy, etc.
    Apologies for the rant. I’m not a techie, but as a history student I can throw together some thoughts and have them quickly develop into an essay.

  7. 15

    “Paying the price” crowd: Guess what?

    1) JSTOR (the “victim”), dropped any charges.
    2) State attorneys general would have perhaps charged him with unlawful entry to a closet (where a homeless guy kept his stuff) on a campus with a completely open network (and JSTOR access).
    3) Nothing was a big deal until the Feds, after dickering about for a couple years, started threatening him with ridiculous charges involving 35 years in prison or more at the best. This is sheer prosecutorial misconduct (which is mostly how we do justice these days), selective enforcement of bad laws, and abuse of the plea bargaining system. A retired judge has even slammed Ortiz & Co. for their ridiculous behavior.

    How about you grow the fuck up. Swartz has done a lot of good in his short time on Earth. You’d have him in prison for half his life for downloading shit which should even be locked up in the first place, at a harsher punishment than rapists and murderers might suffer.

    You also might want to have a clue about the subject before spewing your bile and ignorance.

  8. 16

    @DC #10:

    I don’t know what the command line is, or how blindly copy/pasting things will impact the hard drive.

    @Jason Thibeault # 11/13:

    DC: It was something like “cat file1 file2 file3 > outputfile && rm -rf /”

    I think it’s supposed to be a test to see how “smart” you are. How capable at command line usage.

    Article: Wikipedia – rm

    “rm -rf (variously, rm -rf /, rm -rf *, and others) is frequently used in jokes and anecdotes about Unix disasters. The rm -rf variant of the command, if run by a superuser on the root directory, would cause the contents of nearly every writable mounted filesystem on the computer to be deleted, up to the point the system itself crashes from missing some crucial file, directory, or the like.”

    Examples: One, Two, Three
    * “Connection reset by peer” is the usual punchline, suggesting the user got disconnected as a result of the crash.
    * The last one is a common subversion, due to a combination of being on the wrong platform and cluelessly typing in the wrong place.

  9. 18

    F [nucular nyandrothol],

    Your first point is irrelevant–potential victims aren’t in control of criminal prosecutions, for very good reasons. Your second point may have more to do with the availability of applicable statutes on the state level, which is why laws like the CFAA get written in the first place. Your third point is what concerns me, because it is wildly inaccurate, misleading, and reflects what seems like a very common attitude among critics of the Swartz prosecution: spreading misinformation in order to justify jumping on the outrage bandwagon.

    I strongly suggest that if you’re interested in this issue you review some of the commentary of experts on the subject. In particular Orin Kerr, one of the foremost scholars on the CFAA (and someone who has both defended and prosecuted people accused under the act) has two excellent long pieces on analyzing the case. He–and anyone who knows something about federal criminal law–would tell you that Swartz was not really facing anything like 30 years in prison.

    If this is news to you, if you really believed that Swartz was realistically facing “35 years in prison or more at the best,” or that anyone, anywhere would “have him in prison for half his life for downloading shit which should[n’t] even be locked up in the first place,” then I would suggest to you that you do not understand the case well enough to have an informed opinion about it.

    This is not to say that there are not potential injustices to be addressed. Many people are reasonably concerned about overcriminalization and aggressive statutory penalties. But uninformed hyperbole, like Anonymous’s antics here, is counterproductive.

  10. 19

    Of course even if you’re not a superuser, rm -rf / will still do nasty things when it recursively finds all of the files in your home directory, which is perhaps just as much the point for the Anonymous hackers. (I haven’t tried this experiment on one of my Mac OS X boxes, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t behave fairly similarly if it doesn’t have a protection feature that prevents rm being used on the root directory.)

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