The internet hacking group known as “Anonymous” hacked the U.S. Sentencing Commission website on February 1. This attack, according to a message left on the site, is — among other things — retaliation for the death of Reddit co-founder and internet activist Aaron Swartz.
Anonymous has become infamous for periodic attacks on government websites. On Super Bowl Sunday, Anonymous hacked into the Federal Reserve, and announced they had compromised 4,000 bankers’ accounts.
The oversight on the Federal Reserve’s part, according to a statement issued, was due to a vulnerability in a vendor product. These “vulnerabilities” are how Anonymous hacks into many of its targets: find a weakness somewhere in the website’s code and exploit it.
The vulnerability was quickly fixed, however, and no financial damage was done. However, it seems that Anonymous’ motives are more theatrical than practical; it wants to show that it will not tolerate many of the practices used by the government.
This was the reason behind their recent attack on the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s website: to show that they, and their supporters, will not continue to allow “innocent” people to be wrongly persecuted. Tweet it: Tweet
The group attacked the United States Sentencing Commission website on February 1 by posting nine encrypted files which it referred to as a “warhead,” although the group did not specify what was in the files. The only clue that was given was “everyone has secrets, and some things are not meant to be public.”
Anonymous also posted a YouTube video about the operation, which it calls “Operation Last Resort.”
“Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice,” the voice in the video says. “Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win — a twisted and distorted perversion of justice — a game where the only winning move was not to play.”
Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit and semi-famous internet activist, was found hanged shortly after being arrested in early January.
Swartz was arrested for the alleged theft of millions of articles from Jstor, an online academic article site. He was also strongly opposed to Jstor’s practice of charging for articles that were created with public funding. If convicted, he would have faced up to $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison.
Carmen Ortiz, the attorney responsible for prosecuting Swartz’, stood by her and her fellow prosecutor’s methods in a statement issued shortly after his suicide.
“The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably,” Ortiz said.
The statement also read that in light of the fact that they had no evidence that Swartz was using the Jstor documents for financial gain, they were only going to pursue a six month sentence for Swartz if he confessed.
In its video, Anonymous says that Swartz’ case is just the latest in a long line of federal prosecutions of free-willed whistle-blowers, and that a change in the justice system is needed to prevent this from happening again.