Feeds

Reddit programmer charged with massive data theft

Harvard ethics fellow accused of hacking MIT

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

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.

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
Carders punch holes through Staples
Investigation launched into East Coast stores
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.