Anonymous hacks MIT website, leaves a tribute to Aaron Swartz

The tech community was stunned this week by the terribly sad news of the suicide of Aaron Swartz, one of Reddit's co-founders and co-owners, co-author of the RSS 1.0 spec, and a tireless campaigner and advocate for web freedoms. It was in this role against internet censorship that Aaron found himself facing charges relating to hacking and computer fraud, having downloaded millions of academic documents from the JSTOR online resource, with the intention of distributing them freely online.

Aaron had denied the charges at a preliminary hearing, but was facing an imminent federal trial at the time of his death, and his family have since publicly accused federal and state officials and attorneys of being over-zealous in pursuing and harassing him, with the intention "to punish an alleged crime that had no victims." Aaron's family also named the Massachussets Institute of Technology as "contributing to his death," further accusing MIT of "refusing to stand up for Aaron and its own community's most cherished principles."

In this context, it's not difficult to understand why internet hacktivist group Anonymous chose to hack the MIT website today, to leave a very personal tribute page for Aaron – and, in a significant departure from the group's usual modus operandi, also leaving an apology to MIT's website administrators for doing so.

Anonymous doesn't pull any punches in stating that "the government's prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for." The group also states its belief that "Aaron's act was undoubtedly political activisim; it had tragic consequences." They add four wishes which they believe should be enacted:

  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors who use them.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of copyright and intellectual property law, returning it to the proper principles of common good to the many, rather than private gain to the few.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for greater recognition of the oppression and injustices heaped daily by certain persons and institutions of authority upon anyone who dares to stand up and be counted for their beliefs, and for greater solidarity and mutual aid in response.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet, spared from censorship with equality of access and franchise for all.


A postscript was also appended to the tribute page, apologising "for this temporary use" of MIT's site, and emphasising that Anonymous does not directly blame MIT for the tragedy:

We tender apologies to the administrators at MIT for this temporary use of their websites. We understand that it is a time of soul-searching for all those within this great institution as much — perhaps for some involved even more so — than it is for the greater internet community. We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened, but call for all those feel heavy-hearted in their proximity to this awful loss to acknowledge instead the responsibility they have — that we all have — to build and safeguard a future that would make Aaron proud, and honour the ideals and dedication that burnt so brightly within him by embodying them in thought and word and action.


But even the significant departure from Anonymous tradition in that apology is perhaps not as noteworthy as the very personal tributes left on the page, by those who evidently knew Aaron personally:

Aaron, we will sorely miss your friendship, and your help in building a better world. May you read in peace.

You were the best of us; may you yet bring out the best in us. - Anonymous, Jan 13, 2013


Sources: @AnonymousIRCAaron tribute page on MIT site | Image of Aaron Swartz via Harvard Law Blog

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19 Comments

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Hardly. You can hate the group all you want, but this is a rather poor reason for disliking them. Nerds using nerd power to create a tribute to someone who recently passed away.

Reminds me of when the kids in my neighborhood used chalk and spray-paint to write messages all down the street expressing love for their friend, a 10 year old who committed suicide.

dead.cell said,
Hardly. You can hate the group all you want, but this is a rather poor reason for disliking them. Nerds using nerd power to create a tribute to someone who recently passed away.

Reminds me of when the kids in my neighborhood used chalk and spray-paint to write messages all down the street expressing love for their friend, a 10 year old who committed suicide.


Yeah because hacking one's website is a tribute. Dude your full of it.

These kiddos just thrown ExploitShield or similar to any IP address of MIT they could find untill they found one that is not updated and is online with leaks and holes.
This takes no skill what so frigging ever. This is how Anonymous operates.

And chalking on the street is the same as breaking and entering your house and spray painting your windows shut? Cause that's allot more similar to hacking a website.
But it seems that if I have an opinion to share, I can spray paint it all over your house, lovely mate

I like how you imply that real hackers don't try to first exploit weaknesses in a system. Sounds like you're the one that's full of it.

Also, I'm not suggesting what they're doing is right, but rather if THIS is the reason for calling them failures, it's a rather lame one. They successfully achieved what they wanted to do, got the recognition (as there's articles about the hack), and all. So in that regard, they're definitely not failing here.

Besides, I'm not sure when anyone ever claimed Anonymous were expert hackers anyway. And even so, this isn't the movies where crazy programs are created to crack an algorithm to obtain access. Often times, it's bad security that's the root cause...

Voice of Buddy Christ said,
They misspelled "persecution".

They weren't trying to spell persecution... They were talking about prosecution, or the act of legally seeking damages from someone (aka suing).

Nashy said,
You don't know what a DDOS is do you?

Pretty sure that was sarcasm for all those that say anonymous is just script kiddies using LOIC to 'hack' websites.

The post says a note from those that knew Aaron personally. I'm left wondering if they knew him in real life, or rather a ranked anonymous member or simply referring to the work he did for the online community in general (Rss/reddit etc)

EA575 said,
Wait, what? They just hacked into MIT's website...

Well... that's the thing with lack of security, just how long have they had access to the website and it's contents/connected services to 'just' hack it.

sagum said,

Pretty sure that was sarcasm for all those that say anonymous is just script kiddies using LOIC to 'hack' websites.

LOIC for DDOS attacks, and a variety of vulnerability scanners for the hacking.

sagum said,

Well... that's the thing with lack of security, just how long have they had access to the website and it's contents/connected services to 'just' hack it.

I'm pretty sure MIT's staff of all people would make sure to secure their website...

MASTER260 said,

I'm pretty sure MIT's staff of all people would make sure to secure their website...

Apparently they didn't, because you can bet the vulnerability they used is a known vulnerability. But all they need to do is find one vulnerable server. They hacked the "MIT Cogeneration Project"... a website dedicated to describing the cogeneration power plant they have to generate some of their power. It's clearly not a top priority website.

http://cogen.mit.edu

MASTER260 said,

I'm pretty sure MIT's staff of all people would make sure to secure their website...

Education has noutoriously weak security. I'd rather they spent money on decent courses than the world's best security.