Mike Isaac

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In Wake of Activist’s Death, Anonymous Hacks MIT Website

Anonymous, the guerrilla outfit of loosely affiliated hackers around the world, attacked MIT’s website on Sunday evening, in apparent retaliation for the school’s role in Internet activist Aaron Swartz’s death.

The group used a denial-of-service brute-force attack (commonly known as DDoS-ing) to bring down the site for a period of time, while posting a message to the school’s site shortly thereafter.

“Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice Aaron died fighting for,” the group wrote in the message.

The attack comes just two days after news of Swartz’s death was first made public. Swartz was being prosecuted for his alleged theft of nearly five million JSTOR academic articles in 2010, accessed on the MIT campus network.

Swartz faced charges of computer fraud, wire fraud and other allegations from the U.S. Attorney’s office, which, if he were convicted, could have put the young activist in prison for upward of 30 years and slapped him with $1 million in fines.

While JSTOR eventually did not pursue any legal action against Swartz after he handed over a number of hard drives, the U.S. Attorney’s office continued to prosecute Swartz. His trial was set to begin this April.

On Friday evening, Swartz was found hanged to death in his Brooklyn apartment, by his partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. He was 26.

“… The situation Aaron found himself in highlights the injustice of U.S. computer crime laws, particularly their punishment regimes, and the highly questionable justice of pre-trial bargaining. Aaron’s act was undoubtedly political activism; it had tragic consequences.”

The attack came only hours after MIT released a statement on Swartz’s death, announcing that the school would launch an internal investigation on the events that led up to Swartz’s passing.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle