Former Harvard student charged with hacking into MIT network

The federal indictment alleges that between Sept. 24, 2010, and Jan. 6, 2011, Aaron Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT and accessed MIT’s network without authorization from a computer switch within that closet, according to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Swartz illegally downloaded a major portion of JSTOR’s archive of digitized academic journal articles onto his computers and hard drives, according to the indictment. JSTOR is a not-for-profit archive of scientific journals.

The indictment says that Swartz planned to distribute a significant proportion of JSTOR’s archive through one or more file-sharing sites. Swartz’s repeated downloads impaired JSTOR’s computers, brought down some of its servers, and deprived various computers at MIT from accessing JSTOR’s research.

In a statement on the incident, JSTOR said:

“A substantial portion of our publisher partners’ content was downloaded in an unauthorized fashion using the network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of our participating institutions. The content taken was systematically downloaded using an approach designed to avoid detection by our monitoring systems….We stopped this downloading activity, and the individual responsible, Mr. Swartz, was identified. We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed.”

Swartz, who was a fellow at Harvard University at the time of the alleged incident, has received support from colleagues and friends. More than 15,000 people have signed a letter of support for Swartz on the website, a group which he founded.

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz was unmoved by the support for Swartz. “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away”, she said.

What’s hot on Infosecurity Magazine?