A 24 year-old entrepreneur and star programmer has been indicted by the federal authorities in Boston following and accused of hacking into the network of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and making off with millions of pages of copyrighted documents.
Aaron Swartz, who is best known as an early collaborator on the news site Reddit.com, turned himself in and was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Boston on Tuesday morning. He was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud,unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, according to a statement released by Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
Swartz, who also founded the political action group Demand Progress, pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was released on $100,000 bond. If convicted on these charges, Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison, the U.S. Attorneys Office said. Swartz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The indictment, obtained by Threatpost, paints a surprising and somewhat bizarre account of the alleged illegal hacking by Swartz, who achieved widespread notoriety for his work with Reddit and with Demand Progress.
According to the U.S. Attorney, Swartz, who was let go from Reddit in 2007, allegedly broke into a wiring closet in a basement at MIT and used a switch within that closet to get unauthorized access to MIT’s network. He then allegedly used that access to copy four million articles from JSTOR, an online document archiving service for academic journals.
JSTOR charges organizations, including MIT, for subscriptions to the service, which can run as high as $50,000 a year. Swartz allegedly intended to distribute a large portion of JSTOR’s archive through file sharing sites online. The bulk download to Swartz’s laptop apparently bogged down the JSTOR servers at MIT and caught the attention of MIT’s IT staff, which blocked the illegal activity. At the time, Swartz was a Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Ethics and had access to JSTOR through Harvard at the time of the theft from MIT.
“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,” said United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz in a statement.
The U.S. Secret Service, the Cambridge Police Department and the MIT Police Department all took part in the investigation, according to Steven D. Ricciardi, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service in New England.
Demand Progress, the political action group that Swartz helped found issued a statement on the organization’s blog calling the indictment “ridiculous.”
“This makes no sense,” said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal . “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”