A Cambridge man was charged today with computer intrusion, fraud and data theft after he allegedly hacked into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s network to access protected JSTOR files.
Aaron Swartz, 24, was a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, according to the Boston Globe, and could have accessed JSTOR legally for legitimate research.
Swartz allegedly broke into a restricted computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT and to access MIT’s network from a computer switch in the closet between September 24, 2010, and January 6, 2011.
He used this access to get files from JSTOR, a non-profit organization that compiles academic articles for research purposes, and download them to his computer. Swartz is charged with distributing these articles on various file sharing websites.
“Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,” said United States District Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.”
Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million under the charges brought against him.
The indictment claims that Swartz stole over four million articles from JSTOR. The quantity of downloads affected JSTOR’s computers, crashed some of its servers and blocked some of MIT’s computers from accessing the site.
Despite efforts from both the university and JSTOR to block Swartz’s computers, he apparently prevailed and found new ways into the systems.
“The New England Electronic Crimes Task Force has taken an aggressive stance in the investigation of computer intrusions and other cybercrimes,” said Steven D. Ricciardi, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service in New England. “Through this task force, the Secret Service and our partners on the Cambridge and MIT Police Departments demonstrate the importance of cooperation among law enforcement to focus resources and respond effectively to investigate and prevent this type of fraud.”
Swartz has previously advocated the elimination of barriers to distribution of information online, and for public distribution of information in libraries. He is a co-founder of reddit.com and the founder of Demand Progress, a non-profit political action group that opposes the “corrupting influence on big institutions.”
So far, the government is not aware of any personal information being stolen from JSTOR.