Cambridge Man Arraigned On Breaking & Entering, Larceny Charges in Connection With Data Theft

For Immediate Release November 30, 2011
Contact: MaryBeth Long
781-897-8325

WOBURN – A Cambridge man has been arraigned on charges of breaking and entering, larceny of electronic data, and unauthorized access to a computer network in connection with the illicit downloading of millions of academic articles, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone informed the public today.

Aaron Swartz, 25, of Cambridge, was arraigned today in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn on charges of Breaking and Entering with Intent to Commit a Felony, Larceny over $250, and Unauthorized Access to a Computer Network.  Middlesex Superior Court Clerk Magistrate Michael Sullivan released the defendant on personal recognizance with the condition that he surrenders his passport. 

His next court date is January 3 for a pretrial conference.

According to authorities, on September 24, 2010, the defendant is alleged to have used a new computer to create a fictitious guest identity at MIT to access JSTOR, a not-for-profit entity that provides access, for a fee, to a wide variety of academic journals.  While MIT provides access to its students and faculty, Swartz had no affiliation with MIT.

The next day, using the laptop, the defendant is alleged to have begun downloading a massive quantity of academic articles on an automated basis from JSTOR.  By downloading on an automated basis, the defendant violated the terms of use that JSTOR’s legitimate users agree to.  As JSTOR became aware of this automated intrusion, both MIT and JSTOR took steps to terminate Swartz’s access.  In response, it is alleged that Swartz took specific steps to evade these security responses and continued to download articles through various different Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and a second computer.

On October 9, as a result of a renewed intrusion that caused JSTOR’s computer servers to shut down due to the volume of articles being automatically downloaded, JSTOR blocked access to all MIT users for several days.  In order to obtain an IP address that would not be blocked, Swartz allegedly entered a restricted network interface closet in the basement of MIT’s Building 16 and physically hard-wired his computer into the MIT network, assigning himself two new IP addresses.  In order to avoid his intrusion being discovered, Swartz allegedly concealed his computer and an external hard drive underneath a cardboard box in the interface closet.  He continued to make over two million illegal downloads in November and December of 2010.

On January 4, 2011, a newly-installed security camera captured Swartz entering the restricted server room, appearing to replace a hard drive.  On January 6, the camera again captured Swartz entering the room, covering his face with a helmet in an apparent effort to evade identification.  He is alleged on that date to have taken the concealed laptop and hard drive out of the room.  Later that day, MIT Police recognized Swartz from the video.  When police called to him, he fled; police eventually apprehended and arrested the defendant on Lee Street in Cambridge.  Upon his apprehension, Swartz was found to be in possession of a portable USB drive that contained a file-grabbing program designed to evade security measures and initiate mass downloads.  When the laptop was examined forensically, it also contained a similar file-grabbing program that had been specifically designed to steal files from the JSTOR database.  Secret Service agents later seized four additional hard drives that contained the stolen files.

In all, Swartz is alleged to have stolen more than 4.8 million articles from JSTOR. 

The defendant was indicted by a Middlesex County grand jury on November 17.

These charges are allegations, and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Assistant District Attorney who is assigned to this case is David Solet, Chief of the MDAO’s Cyber Protection Program.  The case was investigated by United States Secret Service, the Cambridge Police Department, and the MIT Police Department.

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