Mickey Mouse killed Aaron Swartz

Mickey Mouse killed Aaron Swartz

I’m sure you’ve already read about Aaron Swartz, the young computer whiz (with an apparent tendency toward depression) who committed suicide when prosecutors went after him for stealing files from JSTOR, the people who make money from old academic articles. He did this by gaining access to physical computers at MIT.

In a detailed and convincing post, Alex Stamos, the expert witness who was planning to testify for Swartz at trial, points out that MIT deliberately operates an “extraordinarily open network” with few controls to prevent abuse. Any visitor can register, and it’s easy to bypass the controls that do exist by assigning yourself an IP address, according to Stamos. There are no terms of use or definition of abusive practices. And when Swartz downloaded the JSTOR articles, “the JSTOR website allowed an unlimited number of downloads by anybody” on MIT’s network. There were no controls for catching bulk downloads. And so, Stamos concludes,

Aaron did not “hack” the JSTOR website for all reasonable definitions of “hack.” Aaron wrote a handful of basic python scripts that first discovered the URLs of journal articles and then used curl to request them. Aaron did not use parameter tampering, break a CAPTCHA, or do anything more complicated than call a basic command line tool that downloads a file in the same manner as right-clicking and choosing “Save As” from your favorite browser.

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