MIT’s network fell to a denial-of-service attack Sunday evening, allegedly by the Internet activist group called Anonymous, cutting campus users off from Internet access to most websites for nearly three hours. The attack came in the wake of accusations that MIT’s role in the pending litigation against Internet activist Aaron Swartz contributed to his Friday suicide.
“I can confirm that there was a denial-of-service attack last night,” said MIT spokeswoman Kimberly C. Allen. Sources who initially reported the outage to IS&T said that they received phone calls after the outage from an IS&T technician who said the outage was a DoS from Anonymous. While much speculation has suggested it was a Distributed Denial of Service attack, rather than a garden-variety Denial of Service attack, no one with information on the topic has given reason to believe the attack was a DDOS. Though it could be one.
Between roughly 7 p.m. and 9:50 p.m. Sunday evening, users of MIT’s network lost access to most websites, and MIT’s own web properties — like the mit.edu homepage — were innaccessible on the Web at large. Two websites cogen.mit.edu and rledev.mit.edu were rewritten as a message from Anonymous about the Swartz case.
“Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for â€” [sic] freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it â€” enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing â€” an ideal that we should all support,” said the message.
The message was careful to not blame MIT directly: “We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened, but call for all those feel heavy-hearted in their proximity to this awful loss to acknowledge instead the responsibility they have - that we all have - to build and safeguard a future that would make Aaron proud...”
Large portions of the message were taken from a post (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/01/farewell-aaron-swartz) from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about Swartz yesterday. The second paragraph, first “wish,” and sign-off message in the end were lifted directly from the post.
In their message, Anonymous outlined 4 wishes — they called for reform of “computer crime laws,” reform of “copyright and intellectual property laws,” greater recognition for “oppression and injustices,” and a commitment to a “free and unfettered internet.”
The message also included a link to the petition to remove U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who has been accused by Swartz supporters for using “overreaching charges.”
Anonymous is an ill-defined organization of hackers and internet activists. Historically, it has been Anonymous’ style to launch denial-of-service, or DoS, attacks to make a political point. Anonymous likely targeted MIT over the Institute’s role in the federal government’s case against Aaron Swartz, who allegedly used an MIT network connection to download millions of articles from the online repository JSTOR. The Tech reported early Saturday morning that Aaron Swartz had died by suicide in his Brooklyn apartment.
In an online statement, the Swartz family said yesterday that “decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to [Swartz’] death,” and that “MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”
And in a message Sunday afternoon to the MIT community, President Rafael Reif said that he asked computer science professor Hal Abelson to “lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took.”
The attack came several hours after Reif’s message was reposted by The Tech and other news organizations’ websites.
J. Nathan Matias contributed to the reporting of this article.