Flag of the group Anonymous (Photo : Wikimedia Commons / kizar)
The Internet freedom hacktivists Anonymous stole control of the U.S. Sentencing Commission website Friday in a new campaign -- part memoriam, part retaliation -- for the recent suicide of Reddit and RSS co-founder Aaron Swartz, ZDNet reported.
As part of a new campaign the group calls "Operation Last Resort," Anonymous attacked the website around 12 a.m. EST. By 6 a.m. EST USSC.gov was down, and has since been dropped from the DNS.
According to ZDNet, Anonymous apparently used the U.S. government website to steal and distribute government files and left a statement on the website that de-encryption keys would be publicly released -- thus releasing the as-yet unknown information held on the stolen files -- if the U.S. government didn't meet the group's demands for legal reform.
Anonymous claimed the group took control of the site for symbolic reasons. The U.S. Sentencing Commission sets the guidelines for sentencing in United States Federal courts. On the defaced USSC.gov website, Anonymous cited Swartz's suicide as a "line that has been crossed." The group's statement suggested retaliation for Swartz's tragic end, which many supporters, including his family, believe was caused by an overzealous prosecution by the Department of Justice.
The group has yet to announce what specific files it obtained, but the various files were named after Supreme Court judges.
"Warhead - U S - D O J - L E A - 2013 . A E E 256 is primed and armed. It has been quietly distributed to numerous mirrors over the last few days and is available for download from this website now. We encourage all Anonymous to syndicate this file as widely as possible," wrote Anonymous on the defaced website.
As ZDNet notes, the cryptic statement appears to be Anonymous threatening whomever knows what's on the encrypted files. The collective is encouraging anyone and everyone to distribute the files, so no one will know who has the files or how many have been distributed. The files will remain useless without encryption keys.
"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," wrote Anonymous.
"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."
Anonymous also tweeted that the group left a "backdoor" on USCC.gov, and made it editable in a way that encourages other hackers to attack the website.
The group also announced in its defacement that Anonymous had placed "multiple warheads" on "compromised systems" on various unnamed websites, encouraging members to download the files that are "primed, armed and quietly distributed to numerous mirrors."
Anonymous posted the following video to the site stating that its attack was just the beginning of "Operation Last Resort."
This isn't the first time Anonymous has stood up for Swartz. Anonymous successfully blocked efforts made by hate group the Westboro Baptist Church to disrupt Swartz's funeral.
The 26-year-old Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment earlier this month. Swartz faced 30 or more years in prison for hacking charges. While working as a fellow at Harvard's Safra Center, Swartz downloaded 4.8 million academic papers from JSTOR, an academic database. MIT and JSTOR have an arrangement allowing free access to the database on MIT's network, but Swartz's pace of downloading reportedly killed JSTOR's servers leading to MIT being blocked from accessing the database for several days, according to the indictment against him. JSTOR alleged Swartz hid a laptop in a computer utility closet at MIT and downloaded the articles before being caught by campus and local police in 2011.
Swartz and JSTOR settled their dispute over the incident, but MIT brought in the authorities to investigate further, which led to his prosecution. Ever since, MIT's cooperation with police has been controversial at the school.
In the wake of Swartz's untimely passing his family has struck out at the government and MIT viciously, pointing to their actions as the catalyst behind his death. At Swartz's funeral, Robert Swartz said his son was "hounded by the government, and MIT refused him," the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
"He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles," he said.
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death," said the Swartz family in a statement.