On the anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s death, Saturday January 11, hacktivists working under the banner of Anonymous breached MIT’s site. They replaced the page’s content with a call to participate in the February 11th “The Day We Fight Back” protests against mass surveillance. A number of other highly publicized hacks also took place, though their veracity or connection to Swartz’s death are unclear.
MIT was targeted because it actively pushed for an investigation into the then-unknown hacker who downloaded articles en masse from the JSTOR database. The university initially portrayed itself as a reluctant participant in a government investigation.
Other hacks included an Anonymous-affiliated attack on Dropbox and a Syrian Electronic Army attack on Microsoft. It was initially reported that Dropbox was DDoS by the group 1775 Sec and its database leaked. Then it became clear that the leaked database was fake and had been posted in order to trick journalists. Dropbox maintains that it was not the subject of a DDoS attack and that the outage was due to internal issues.
The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) took control of a few Microsoft Twitter handles, which it then told Mashable was due to Microsoft supposedly “monitoring emails accounts and selling the data for the American intelligence and other governments.” Despite the BBC’s questionable decision to prominently feature a picture of Aaron Swartz with their article, there is no clear relationship between the SEA and the hacktivists commemorating Swartz. Indeed, one would venture to guess that Swartz would not be a fan of the hackers who support Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Swartz’s role as a visionary for the open web and a political activist is perhaps too long to list. But some of his credits include being one of the cofounders of Reddit, helping to author the first RSS specification, writing the original version of the HTTPS everywhere browser extension, cofounding the political advocacy group Demand Progress, and doing initial development on the open-source whistleblower submission system SecureDrop.
In addition to the hacks, a number of eloquent tributes to Aaron were posted over the weekend, including by Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which took over developing SecureDrop after Swartz’s death. Lawrence Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons and Swartz’s mentor has begun a walk across New Hampshire to “fight the corrupting influence of money in politics,” an issue Swartz increasingly came to devote his time to.
Meanwhile, politicians seem to have not learned their lesson. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is using the recent Target data breach to scaremonger Congress into further bolstering the CFAA, the “draconian” law under which Aaron Swartz was prosecuted. And the Department of Justice has still not produced a satisfactory investigation into Swartz’s death.