A group of computer hackers, angry over the suicide of an Internet freedom activist who had been under investigation from the Obama administration’s Justice Department, took over a federal website early Saturday and announced it is “declaring war on the U.S. government.”
The group, which calls itself Anonymous, took over the website of the U.S. Justice Department’s Sentencing Commission, www.ussc.gov, and threatened to release sensitive government data and use computer-code based “warheads” against other sites.
The attack is part of a much broader backlash percolating in the online world against the Justice Department’s prosecution of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist who killed himself Jan. 11.
Friends and family blame the death of Mr. Swartz on the federal government’s threat to imprison the 26-year-old for illegally publishing more than 4 million academic papers on the Internet.
Mr. Swartz had faced a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.
Critics of the federal government’s handling of the case say the Internet activist was the victim of an over-zealous, politically motivated prosecution headed by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
Ms. Ortiz, who had been called a rising political star in Massachusetts before her involvement in the Swartz controversy, released a statement last week defending her handling of the case:
“This office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably,” she wrote.
The Justice Department web site was up and running again by mid-day Saturday, but there were indications the hackers had taken government files and is threatening to release the files unless their demands for legal reforms are met.
The FBI is heading the investigation into Saturday’s attack,according to Richard McFeely, of the bureau’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch.
“We were aware as soon as it happened and are handling it as a criminal investigation,” Mr. McFeely said in an emailed statement. “We are always concerned when someone illegally accesses another person’s or government agency’s network.”