Aaron Swartz Protesters Take Over Government Websites, Install Asteroids

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 28 2013 10:27 AM

Aaron Swartz Protesters Take Over Government Websites, Install Asteroids

Anonymous Asteroids hack
The hacked homepage of the U.S. Probation Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, once you've used the Nyan Cat (upper left) to blast away the original text and images.

Screenshot / http://www.miep.uscourts.gov/

As a rule, I’m not a fan of the tactics of hackers claiming affiliation with Anonymous. But as a child of the 1980s, I find it hard not to be at least a little amused by the group’s latest stunt.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

As part of its ongoing protest of the U.S. government’s prosecution of computer programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide on Jan. 11, Anonymous this weekend hacked the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, www.ussc.gov. The initial hack was standard Anonymous fare, replacing the USSC homepage with a video in which a creepy computerized voice spouted pompous pseudo-revolutionary threats.

Advertisement

But after the site went offline and then was restored, it was infiltrated again on Sunday—and Anonymous social media accounts distributed code that turned the USSC homepage into a playable game of Asteroids. Anyone who visited the site and typed in the Konami code could use a missile-equipped Nyan Cat to blast away at the various text and graphical elements on the page, revealing a Guy Fawkes mask underneath.

When the site went down again, the hackers moved on to a different government website: that of the U.S. Probation Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. There the Asteroids hack is still live as I write this Monday morning. Typing in the Konami code brings up the following pop-up message:

Probation Office hacked website

Screenshot

Click OK and the Nyan Cat appears, allowing you to fire at will on the surrounding page until nothing remains but a picture of Swartz (see image at top).

I’d be hard-pressed to point to any actions Anonymous has taken against the U.S. government that have resulted in legitimate benefit to the general public. If anything, the group’s creepy, vengeful tactics give more constructive hackers like Swartz a bad name.

That said, the Asteroids hack appears to be relatively playful and benign—a far more fitting tribute to Swartz than a bunch of overblown threats to inflict “chaos” and make the Department of Justice feel “helplessness and fear,” notwithstanding the inevitable “collateral damage.” If the goal is to dissuade government officials from overly harsh crackdowns on hackers, scaring people is only going to undermine the cause.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 9:26 AM These Lego Masterpieces Capture the Fear and Humor of the “Dark” Side
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.