Hacktivist group Anonymous has gone to war with the U.S. government, demanding change to the U.S. legal system.
The hackers hijacked the website of the U.S. government agency responsible for federal sentencing guidelines, and now are holding hostage encrypted government files and threatening to release them if demands for legal reform are not met.
They posted a message demanding the United States reform its justice system or face incriminating leaks to select news outlets.
A screenshot at 3:35 a.m. EST on January 26, of the homepage of the United States federal sentencing website after it had been hacked looked like this:
The lengthy, eloquently written letter was signed "Anonymous."
At midnight on Friday, January 25, Anonymous took control of the U.S. Sentencing Commission website in a new campaign called "Operation Last Resort."
The cyber attack highlights a lethal weapon the hacker group has: making public secret files and using those files to blackmail others. Is it terrorism or a new form of cyber protest? On one end, this practice can be seen as a sort of terrorism ... Anonymous in this case is holding hostage sensitive documents and demanding the government do their bidding. On the other end, the move could be seen as an extreme protest against the government: many of these hackers are American young people who often call attention to political wrong using technology as a forum.
As PolicyMic global affairs expert Georgi Ivanov explains, the group does act out against cases where miscarriage of justice or corruption is concerned, and these are actions that, while controversial, have merit. While hacking attacks are done to symbolize opposition to one issue or another, leaking information is a practice that predates Anonymous, but still remains a potent tool in revealing how organizations and governments that would not otherwise release their information, operate. The consequent fallout creates a public relations disaster for the affected parties, but it is a reminder that society works best when there is a degree of accountability and trust between governments and governed.
The first attack on the website was early Friday morning. The second successful attack came around midnight on Saturday.
But by 11:15 a.m. the site looked to be back up, though running massively slow.
It appears that via the U.S. government website, Anonymous had distributed encrypted government files and left a statement on the website that de-encryption keys would be publicly released (thus releasing the as-yet unkonwn information held on the stolen files) if the U.S. government did not comply with Anonymous' ultimatum demands for legal reform.
The attack seems to be connected with the suicide of Reddit co-owner and internet engineer Aaron Swartz, a suicide that many felt was the result of a hounding government prosecution for downloading millions of articles from an internet database
Swartz committed suicide on January 11 in New York City, following his federal indictment for illegally downloading over 4.8 million journals from the online scholarly archive JSTOR. The prosecutors have been the subject of harsh criticism for filing hefty charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer system, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, carrying a maximum sentence of 35 years.
Swartz’s death triggered a wave of activism from tech celebrities, legal experts, and online communities.