Hacktivist group Anonymous threatened Saturday to release secret information about the U.S. Department of Justice, and said it had hijacked the U.S. Sentencing Commission's website to avenge the recent suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who faced federal charges.
Early Saturday, a message had been posted on the U.S. Sentencing Commission's website, saying "a line was crossed" when Swartz killed himself on Jan. 11, and that the hackers had copied sensitive information from government computer systems.
USSC website was taken down early Saturday, and was later restored the same day. "The commission's publications, training materials and federal sentencing statistics are again readily accessible to visitors to the site," the commission said in a statement.
The sentencing commission, an independent agency of the judicial branch of the federal government, was targeted because it influences "unfair" sentencing, the hackers said. "We were aware as soon as it happened and are handling it as a criminal investigation," FBI's Richard McFeely, executive assistant director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, said in a statement. "We are always concerned when someone illegally accesses another person's or government agency's network."
The hackers said the information they would made public can be compared with a nuclear weapon, as they had "enough fissile material for multiple warheads," with which they would target the Department of Justice and affiliated organizations. They also posted a version of the USSC website and encouraged users to edit it as they pleased, according to CNN. Multiple pages appeared to allow users to alter them.
"As a result of the FBI's infiltration and entrapment tactics, several more of our brethren now face similar disproportionate persecution, the balance of their lives hanging on the severely skewed scales of a broken justice system," Anonymous said in a video posted on YouTube.
The 26-year-old Swartz, who helped create Reddit and RSS feeds, and had a history of depression, killed himself after he was hounded by federal prosecutors, his family and friends say. Officials accuse the Internet activist of helping post court documents for free online and of illegally downloading academic articles from an online clearinghouse.
Swartz was facing 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine for breaking into a closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to plug into the computer network.
Anonymous, which strongly opposes Internet censorship and surveillance, is a loosely associated hacktivist group. It appeared for the first time in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, representing the concept of many online and offline community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, digitized global brain.