'Asteroids' game bombards government websites in hacking raid
Aaron Swartz hung himself earlier in January because he faced decades of prison time for illegally downloading thousands of academic papers online.
Mon, Jan 28 2013 at 1:36 PM
The late hacktivist Aaron Swartz speaking at the Freedom to Connect conference in Washington, D.C. in May 2012 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Hackers angry over the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz took over the website of the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) twice over the weekend, finally infecting the homepage with a playable version of the classic arcade game "Asteroids."
The hackers, claiming affiliation with the online movement Anonymous, also claimed to release a list of people in the federal Witness Security Program, also known as the Witness Protection Program, but that was quickly discovered to be a hoax.
Blood of the martyr
The attack began late Friday (Jan. 25), when the homepage of the USSC, which sets sentencing guidelines for federal courts, was defaced with a video regarding the prosecution of Swartz.
"We have seen the erosion of due process, the dilution of constitutional rights, the usurpation of the rightful authority of courts by the discretion of prosecutors," said a voiceover on the video. "We have seen how the law is wielded less and less to uphold justice, and more and more to exercise control."
Swartz, who hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment earlier this month at the age of 26, was facing decades in federal prison for allegedly downloading millions of academic documents from an online archive to a laptop hidden on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
According to a report released last week, local authorities in Boston had not intended to seek any jail time for Swartz.
Federal prosecutors then took over the case, first indicting Swartz on four charges that carried a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison, then adding nine more charges in a second indictment that increased the possible prison time to 50 years.
Two weeks ago, Anonymous defaced the websites of MIT and the U.S. Department of Justice in Swartz's memory. [Are You Looking at This Website? You Might Be Breaking the Law]
The USSC site was fixed Saturday (Jan. 26), but late Sunday the Twitter feed @OpLastResort issued a cryptic message.
"ussc.gov --> enter Konami code (with cursor keys) ↑↑↓↓←→←→ B A <Enter> ---> CAEK (repeat for NyanCat powers...)"
The Konami cheat code was a well-known method of gaining extra points on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980s. On a computer, it would be up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right on the keyboard arrow keys, then "B," "A" and "Enter."
On Sunday evening, the USSC site appeared normal until the cheat code was entered, at which point a silhouette of the popular Internet meme "NyanCat" appeared.
The arrow keys maneuvered NyanCat and fired his thruster engine; pressing the spacebar fired his laser cannon, blowing away elements of the page until a background image of the Anonymous logo appeared.
On Monday morning (Jan. 28), the USSC's site was unreachable, but the game had been ported to the website of the Eastern Michigan branch of the U.S. Probation Office at http://www.miep.uscourts.gov/.
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