Feeds

Reddit programmer charged with massive data theft

Harvard ethics fellow accused of hacking MIT

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

A former employee of Reddit has been accused of hacking into the computer systems of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloading almost 5 million scholarly documents from a nonprofit archive service.

Aaron Swartz, a 24-year-old researcher in Harvard University's Center for Ethics, broke into a locked computer-wiring closet in an MIT basement and used a switch there to gain unauthorized access the college's network, federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday. He then downloaded 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive of more than 1,000 academic journals, according to an indictment filed in US District Court in Boston.

“As JSTOR, and then MIT, became aware of these efforts to steal a vast proportion of JSTOR's archive, each took steps to block the flow of articles to Swartz's computer and thus to prevent him from redistributing them,” the court document stated. “Swartz, in turn, repeatedly altered the appearance of his Acer laptop and the apparent source of his automated demands to get around JSTOR's and MIT's blocks against his computer.”

Attempts to reach Swartz for comment weren't immediately successful. According to his personal website, he is a cofounder of the social news website Reddit, although many people dispute this characterization. He is also the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics including “the corrupting influence of big money on institutions.”

Members of Demand Progress, a nonprofit political action group Swartz founded, criticized the indictment.

“This makes no sense,” the group's executive director, David Segal, said in a statement. “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

When JSTOR blocked the MIT IP address Swartz used in September, for example, the Harvard fellow allegedly incremented a single digit and resumed his wholesale downloading binge, which was streamlined with a custom Python script. JSTOR at times responded by blocking huge ranges of IP addresses, causing legitimate JSTOR users at MIT to be denied access.

Eventually, MIT responded by blocking the MAC address of his Acer laptop, so Swartz allegedly spoofed the digital serial number, again by incrementing a single character of the address.

According to authorities, Swartz hid the laptop and a battery of external hard drives under a box in the wiring closet so they wouldn't be noticed by anyone who entered the enclosure. He then periodically swapped out the drives, taking pains to mask his face with a bicycle helmet to evade identification.

Of the 4.8 million documents allegedly downloaded, about 1.7 million of them were made available for purchase by independent publishers. Prosecutors said Swartz planned to dump the huge stash on one or more file-sharing sites.

Swartz was charged with computer intrusion, fraud, and data theft. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 35 years in prison, restitution and forfeiture, and a fine of $1 million. A PDF of the indictment is here. ®

This post was updated to clarify Swartz's position at Reddit and to add comments from Demand Progress.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.