Anonymous Hacks US Sentencing Commission Website, Grabs Sensitive Files And Demands Legal Reform

from the also-does-stuff-with-Asteroids-and-the-Konami-code-because-it-can dept

The discussion begun by Aaron Swartz's suicide continues, prompting activity all around the internet. Overzealous prosecution of an outdated law, coupled with this tragedy, has led to hackathons, proposed legislation and criticism of the methods employed by Carmen Ortiz. This past weekend, Anonymous added its two-cents worth in its own particular idiom.

The action began Friday night when Anonymous took down the U.S. Sentencing Commission website, demanding reform of the justice system and threatening to expose a large number of files “secured” from the website. A very long statement of purpose accompanied this hack, beginning with these paragraphs.

Citizens of the world,

Anonymous has observed for some time now the trajectory of justice in the United States with growing concern. We have marked the departure of this system from the noble ideals in which it was born and enshrined. 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. We have seen how the law is wielded less and less to uphold justice, and more and more to exercise control, authority and power in the interests of oppression or personal gain.

We have been watching, and waiting.

Two weeks ago today, a line was crossed. Two weeks ago today, Aaron Swartz was killed. Killed because he faced an impossible choice. Killed because he was forced into playing a game he could not win — a twisted and distorted perversion of justice — a game where the only winning move was not to play.

Anonymous calls this takedown a “symbolic gesture,” aimed at the home of federal sentencing guidelines, which it calls out for advancing “cruel and unusual” punishment, a clear violation of the 8th amendment. The collective also claims it has compromised several other government sites and obtained sensitive files, which it will start releasing to the press in “heavily redacted” form, unless its demands are met.

However, in order for there to be a peaceful resolution to this crisis, certain things need to happen. There must be reform of outdated and poorly-envisioned legislation, written to be so broadly applied as to make a felony crime out of violation of terms of service, creating in effect vast swathes of crimes, and allowing for selective punishment. There must be reform of mandatory minimum sentencing. There must be a return to proportionality of punishment with respect to actual harm caused, and consideration of motive and mens rea. The inalienable right to a presumption of innocence and the recourse to trial and possibility of exoneration must be returned to its sacred status, and not gambled away by pre-trial bargaining in the face of overwhelming sentences, unaffordable justice and disfavourable odds. Laws must be upheld unselectively, and not used as a weapon of government to make examples of those it deems threatening to its power.

Threats or no threats, the government took the USSC site offline and restored it to working order by Saturday… at which point it was hacked a second time by Anonymous. This time the hackers weren't screwing around. Instead of a simple vandalization, the entire site was turned into an interactive game of Asteroids.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission website has been hacked again and a code distributed by Anonymous “Operation Last Resort” turns into a playable video game.

Visitors enter the code, and then the website that sets guidelines for sentencing in United States Federal courts becomes “Asteroids.”

Shooting away at the webpage reveals an image of Anonymous. The trademark Anonymous “Guy Fawkes” face is comprised of white text saying, “We do not forgive. We do not forget.”

The code that turned the site “interactive” is very familiar to gamers.

The hack/game proved extremely popular, so Anonymous set up a mirror at another compromised site, (US Probation Dept.). At the time of writing this, both sites are down, suggesting the government has taken both sites offline until they can be “safely” restored.

Will these takedowns have any noticeable effect on those Anonymous is trying to reach? Most likely, no. Hacking a government website just makes it easier for those prosecuting hackers to make their case. Stewart Baker at The Volokh Conspiracy suggests that these actions do more harm than good to the collective's stated aim.

The exploit is probably counterproductive too. Apart from turning those who want reform of computer crime law into the allies of lawbreakers, Anonymous has substantively hurt the case for amending the CFAA. Heavy criminal penalties are entirely appropriate for people who hack a Supreme Court Justice’s account and disclose personal secrets. But it’s not easy to redraft the CFAA so it reflects the difference between Swartz and the Anonymous hackers, at least not without relying on precisely the prosecutorial discretion that the Swartz prosecutors misused.

Finally, I wonder if this incident won’t affect the Supreme Court’s approach to cybercrime issues. As Frank Rizzo once said, a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged. If that’s true, every time Anonymous mugs one of the Justices in cyberspace, it could be making the Court just a little less enthusiastic about limiting the tools the government uses to deter computer crime

In his take, Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice takes issue with Baker's statement regarding the enthusiasm level of the courts.

Not that any of the justices have shown much enthusiasm up to now, but the alternative to bad isn't necessarily good. Things can always get worse.

While Baker argues that Anonymous makes things that much tougher for justice reform, Greenfield argues that hacking the USSC is especially pointless, considering how irrelevant the Sentencing Commission is at this point in time.

The first indication that Anonymous made a left turn when it should have made a right was when it picked the United States Sentencing Commission website to show its might. Nobody noticed, because, well, nobody cares about the USSC anymore.

Had this happened a generation ago, it might have meant something. Yesterday, it likely evoked a chuckle and a face palm. Post Booker and some actual crack reforms, it was a big nothing.

Yes, Anonymous is correct in its observation that the so-called “justice system” in the US is a corrupt and bloated entity, prone to abusing its power and control. But the USSC isn't the problem, not because it's the “good guys,” but because the damage it can do is easily outweighed by the public's keen interest in sabotaging its own freedoms.

So you guys can hack an outlier agency that has drifted into relative irrelevance. Got it. Have a nice day. The USSC is symbolic of nothing other than government bloat. The guidelines don't enable prosecutors to cheat citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. Citizens do that to each other. We do it each time we elect a legislator who calls for tougher laws. We do it each time we demand the creation of a new crime because of the tragic death of a child. We do it whenever we elevate safety over freedom. And that's what Americans do…

By taking out the USSC website, you disturbed nothing while annoying the government. When the head of the FBI cybersecurity squad gets done laughing, he's going to find someone else to prosecute. It may not be one of you, but it will be someone, or more likely, a whole gang of people with computers. And they have guns. Pissing them off over nothing isn't effective. It's just begging for retaliation, and the government has no sense of humor (or irony).

As much as we sometimes want an entity like Anonymous to strike back at wrongdoers, the likelihood of this action (especially this one) resulting in any positive change remains near zero. Doubly frustrating is the fact that going through the “proper channels” to effect change has the same low odds. The hope here is that this action keeps the focus on the questionable methods and bad laws that resulted in the prosecution Aaron Swartz's and many others.

Considering there are many politicians (and many private contractors) that badly want their worst cyberwar fears to be true, this recent bout of hacktivism may give them all the ammo they want to push damaging legislation through while placing a badly needed CFAA update on the back burner.

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Comments on “Anonymous Hacks US Sentencing Commission Website, Grabs Sensitive Files And Demands Legal Reform”

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blaktron (profile) says:

Sorry Tim, normally you are spot on, but this time you have fundamentally misunderstood what Anonymous has claimed to do. They are claiming that they installed browser exploits and stole secrets from the DOJ employees that visited those sites, likely all of them as that website hosts the current version of the Minimum Sentencing Guidelines, which all prosecutors use. If their claims are correct, then they likely have completely compromised both the professional and personal accounts of all visitors to the site.

The theory currently being discussed by real security pros (like me) is that the reason that Homeland Security asked all government employees to remove the JavaVM is that they caught them in the act, but due to the nature off the exploit could not stop it. This is the first time ever that Anonymous may have actually gotten real incriminating info.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Depends on how long it gets to keep looking around.
Like Stuxnet, did it keep adding itself to everything it came into contact with?

Look at how over the top the response is to “regular” people finding out the secrets of how the sausage is made in Government. If they thought they were speaking where the public could never hear, what might they have said that would doom them if it got out?

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

They would have full admin to any machine that connects to that website and allows a java applet run. Which would be all of them, since its likely in the Trusted Sites list of DOJ machines. With admin access they would setup a key logger or just pull the outlook .ost. The severity of that Java 0 day cannot be understated, combine that with the amount of Java the public sector uses (standard install on all government machines, and web app platform of choice), unless they are totally making it up they have everything from most DOJ employees. Potentially much much more.

I think they are taking advantage of the panic over that java bug, but if not then this will be very interesting as they make everything electronic from all the judges and prosecutors in the US public.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

By taking out the USSC website, you disturbed nothing while annoying the government.

I’ll also add to your line that the mere fact that people are talking about it and their message is being replicated by mainstream media writers is just pure win just for itself.

If they got all the data you seem to believe they got (and I honestly don’t doubt it) I can only expect anxiously for the ensuing mayhem and hilarity.

Stay tuned for the next Asteroids chapter!

blaktron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think you’re wrong, I just think that while the media talks about “defacing websites” they forget what it means to control a domain that is in the trusted sites list of government employees and what it could potentially mean for IT security. This time anonymous is really claiming to have stolen the motherload, which is not new for them, but they are describing a plausible situation where they may have actually done it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don’t know why is counter productive is not like those real hackers did release bad information that would harm any decent loving person.

The Asteroids game though is nice touch.

As for the “proper channels” well, we do have proper channels is just not the ones people think about it.

If we want change people will have to start to work for it, that means drafting the legislation, putting people in the right positions and electing the people who will do that job, we left everything for others and this is what happens when you become dependent on anything, you get owned.

I see law as an organic system it should start functioning like one, it has to create cells(laws) every so often and let them die, the more it needs some type the more they are created and when not needed anymore they just vanish.

It was impossible to do it in the past, it would require everyone to keep updating their knowledge and understand everything about how the law works, today you don’t need that, you just need a database and something like “what I am and what laws affect me”, so everytime a law changes you can be alerted to what is happening.

The are things that people can do that would marvel anyone.

Democraticaly making laws also is possible with something akin to a GIT hub, everybody have access to a full copy of the actual body of laws and they all can propose their own laws and then let others adopt the laws that make more sense to them, then depending on how much it spreads that one can be picked for voting.

We have the technology to do it, what we don’t have is an iLaw type of thing that would make it accessible to people.

Imagine an election where people just don’t vote for general promises but for actual drafted legislation, then people know what “their representatives” will be doing for the most part.

This also have some good points, everybody will be in it, you have to convince and explain why laws are needed and what they would do to each and every person, so each and every person must have someone they trust.

Is like the pirates for music and video, not all people know how to rip those they ask somebody who have some interest in it, that person in turn asks others who know better and so forth it creates a chain, it links everyone and doesn’t create this void between people making laws and people having to be ruled by those laws.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

I'm a fan

Anonymous, wherever you are, do please keep up the good work.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I feel this should be our ode about liberty…

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: I'm a fan

kick their asses…

how telling is it, that i ‘trust’ an unknown group to champion MY (and ALL OF OURS) interests and freedom MORE than just about ANYBODY in ‘my’ (sic) gummint ? ? ?

if there was an ‘Anonymous’ party, i would vote straight party line every damn time…
only then, might my vote have real meaning with real consequences…

Anonymous, i don’t have many -if any- heroes on this planet, but you are one of them…
thank you (…and look out for the nazgul ! ! !)

(and THANK YOU, aaron, bradley, kiriakou, klein, bouazizi, rowley, edmonds, etc, etc, etc… there ARE some nekkid apes who will not bow to Empire… thank you all)

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm a fan

how telling is it, that i ‘trust’ an unknown group to champion MY (and ALL OF OURS) interests and freedom MORE than just about ANYBODY in ‘my’ (sic) gummint ? ? ?

Sad truth.

Anonymous, i don’t have many -if any- heroes on this planet, but you are one of them…
thank you

The good part is that it’s a whole bunch of unknown heroes. Yeah, epic.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

For each person downplaying what was done, I have one question.
Is the public much more aware of the events surrounding it now or not?
People like to know why, they need to assign blame before they can do anything, which means they will ask why this was done. The target isn’t the message, maybe its a message about how these guidelines and laws are being abused on average people that someone with power dislikes.

The fact there are now encrypted files out in the wilds is the biggest fear of the Government. That should give people pause, they love to tell us we shouldn’t mind them snooping in our things unless we have something to hide… why is the converse not true?

They waste time, money, effort trying to hide misdeeds and stupidity by putting the ones who bring forward the proof to trial with the biggest trumped up charges they can create. They just sentenced someone for blowing the whistle, and the Manning case continues…

Anonymous goes from being some snarky kids with a couple scripts to high level hackers depending on what spin they want to give the story. Who is to say they did not find something in other explorations that started this chain of events off.

People seem to think everything is a zero sum game, its how the country is currently running… how is that working out for us?

The magician is telling us to look over here… I’m more concerned about whats happening where they don’t want us looking.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I was more so referring to the media spin doctors who claim they are just a buncha untalented hacks when say PayPal gets DDOS’d nothing was harmed in our network – (but they throw the book at them claiming millions in losses in court docs), and when they want to turn the dial up on cyber terrorism they are this vast shadowy evil operation with huge amounts of power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s a classic move – you force their hand until it’s obvious to everyone what they’re trying to accomplish – and then it doesn’t matter what they tell people any longer – their actions have spoken.

I think the last few years have been quite revealing of our U.S. government’s plans, and how they treat citizens of their own country. Sadly, there’s still a large percentage of people who are too busy watching primetime television to notice – but eventually they too will be unable to avert their eyes and stick their head in the sand.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Maybe it’s my cynicism talking, but I’m fairly sure Anonymous and every other group like them could have stood back and done nothing, and the government still would have continued to ramp up the violation of liberties.

The whole ‘We need law ‘X’ because of hackers/pirates/terrorists!’ is nothing but a smokescreen covering the actual underlying motivation, that of ‘We want law ‘X’ so we can have more power and control.’

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:


The They ™ need NO pretext for this horror show; one thing (un) naturally follows the other:
‘we’ HAVE TO spy on our dear citizens because they are unhappy with us for spying on them so we have to spy on them to find out how unhappy they are about us spying on them because we are spying on them they feel spied upon so we spy on them to make sure they are not talking about being spied on and feeling bad about being spied upon…
ad infinitum ad nauseum…

The They ™ are old hands at turning the screws until the screwee screams, at which point they say ‘see, they screamed, we are justified in turning the screws on them…’
works every time…

…or, perhaps a reichstag fire or two
near as i can tell, ALL the feebs do these days is stage false flag ops…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Overcast (profile) says:

Maybe it’s my cynicism talking, but I’m fairly sure Anonymous and every other group like them could have stood back and done nothing, and the government still would have continued to ramp up the violation of liberties.

Problem with ‘leaders’ – as history shows, they tend to get fearful.. and feel as though ‘controlling the masses’ somehow makes them safer. Seems to be more of an issue, the longer someone is in ‘power’ – perhaps more term limits on more offices would help correct that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They knew this was coming – they’ve always anticipated it. You can’t go around pissing everyone off without some retaliation.

The cyberterrorism legislation was always just waiting for the right moment to push it through – so they could strangle every last bit of our digital privacy and freedoms.

Like any other legislation – the easiest way to push it through is to way for the right event to occur. Look at gun control, for example – you know damn well that has been waiting in the background for the right event.

weneedhelp - not signed in says:

i was catching up and

apparently, Anonymous is based in Antigua:

I also think that, unfortunately, some people in the US government were almost offended that Antigua chose to challenge the US and have been so persistent in its pursuit of justice that the US government has adopted unusually harsh and unyielding lines that have made it difficult to consider our issue in its proper context.

When do you think the rest of the world will get tired of us and just band together to put an end to our crap?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: i was catching up and

Not soon enough.
The entire Government now seems to be run by people beholden to special interests and unwilling to have a differing viewpoint on many topics.
Abortion – We have to keep trying to pass more and more insane bills to limit something because a vocal group is offended by them happening. We can not allow for the mothers life to shake us. We can not allow that the pregnancy was due to rape shake us. We can not accept that no federal money is used for them, we have to keep insisting they are using out money to hand out abortions to people walking down the street. We can’t actually increase the social safety net to assist those who have the baby, because this same group can not see cause and effect.

Immigration – Was best summed up by the farmer standing in the middle of his field filled with rotting crops. He was happy they had driven all of the illegals (and legals who happened to be brown) away. Those hard working Americans who had their jobs stolen by these criminals showed up to work, and none of them did a full day. It was long hard work for not enough pay for them. But because there are people convinced they are stealing jobs, medical care, etc etc we haven’t had the collective will to even try and fix the problem.

Drugs – The war on drugs… nuff said.

Terrorism – This sacred cow needs killing, but no one dares because the sound bite will call them a terrorist lover. So what if our freedoms they are “protecting” are being sacrificed to chase the terrorists. When they take everything away, what were we doing this for again?

Guns – we can not have a civil discussion. Everyone runs to the polar opposite side and scream they are right. In the meantime the bodycounts go up, while lobbyists pocket large donations to keep fighting a fight we shouldn’t be having.

People commit fully to an idea and hold it unwaveringly to the bitter end and then some. Many people call the “Birthers” kooks but they still exist and will keep screaming as long as they can. They can not accept the truth, because they are far to committed to it. These are the same people who are trying to “prove” that Obama setup Sandy Hook to get relected and that no one was actually killed.

Once upon a time we had to work together, and a negotiation where no one walked away happy but at least satisfied was good for the country. Now we play games threatening to shut down the entire Government (except Congress’s pay of course) to prove who has the biggest balls. We waste time, effort, resources to let them save face for people who don’t care what their actions will cause, they just have to win for their side.

Anonymous Coward says:


While I tend to agree with you Tim (and Mike) concerning many of the things that Anonymous does and how it is limited in how productive sometimes reaching the level of counter productivity. However this time there seems to be some very calculated points to these attacks that people are missing. Proportionality means proportionality TO THE CRIME and the subsequent damage done, not the level of embarrassment felt by the government. If someone were to be arrested and charged and railroaded into a plea deal of 13 felony counts for ASTEROIDS absurdity of this would be readily aparrant. As for the acquisition of judges personal information, given the NSA’s blatant disregard for the 6th amendment in it’s collection of innocent citizens private communications and information, this act is clearly a proportional response to these sorts of abuses by the government.

You also fail to recognize the purpose that these sorts of acts serve. They serve to make a statement. We live in a time where we have gone so far from being a government from having a government of the people by the people for the people to a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich at the expense of the people, that the people feel the need en masse to take to the streets for months at a time in protest. We live in a time where people are hurting so much from this that many people snap in desperation and commit senseless acts of violence against their own. And our government’s response to this is to pander further to the will of the rich, strip away further the rights of the people ignoring the laws set forth in our Constitution. In these sorts of times, the people need one thing above all else, and that is hope. These acts give them that hope, through showing an unbending will to stand up against this sort of oppression. It shows that there are some out their that understand what is going on and will fight by whatever means against it regardless of how futile it may seem. This is why it is important.

Anonymous Coward says:

By taking out the USSC website, you disturbed nothing while annoying the government. When the head of the FBI cybersecurity squad gets done laughing, he’s going to find someone else to prosecute. It may not be one of you, but it will be someone, or more likely, a whole gang of people with computers. And they have guns. Pissing them off over nothing isn’t effective. It’s just begging for retaliation, and the government has no sense of humor (or irony).

This line of logic never ceases to amaze me that not only people can think like this, but that they think it’s okay to watch happen.

“No!! If you anger the big mean scary government they might start killing EVERYONE with computers!!! It’s best to keep the government happy by pretending that the system is going okay! There’s no telling what the government might do next, they could be killing innocent computer programmers right now!!”

Which rings true to the idea that he can’t see the forest for the trees, he can’t see that very attitude is the reason anonymous pulled this stunt in the first place, as grandstanding, egotistical, and meaningless of a message it may have been.

trish says:

counterproductive lol. no matter what anonymous does, they will not get the important decision-makers to listen to them because they are not GIVING THEM MONEY. Politicans don;t give two crap sabout justice, or what is best for the people, they care about M O N E Y. that is all. nothing else. NOTHING will change until these people are violently overthrown, just like happens in any society that’s governed by a nepotistic dictatorship.
Anonymous may not be swaying the people who need to be (a.k.a the people who don’t care because MONEY) but they are getting the attention of the people (a.k.a. those that will matter one day, but really don;t right now eh)

AnonymousKierkergard says:


I agree that it may be causing more harm than good, but what other choice do we have? The “proper” channels are clogged with money, greed and corruption, the people in power don’t feel responsible to their constituents, and the whole system is rigged against us. Look at what happened to Swartz, for essentially using an open system, look what happens when we let the politicians and industry leaders make the laws – housewives get sued for thousands for downloading one song.

“When the rule of law has lost it’s head, the law of force is what you get” (Subhumans)

When the legal channels are too corrupt or broken to work, the illegal (or more accurately, gray) channels are all you have to work with… if that’s what it’s come to, then so be it.

Anonymous Coward says:

It would be more appropriate that the anonymous hackers become anonymous Lawyers and they might stand a chance. The path they are taking now will do nothing but bring the ah*** government down on us harder.
By the way nothing has changed since we started smoking weed and protesting the Vietnam murder spree. Frame up, setups, stings and outright lies, was and is the norm. They still use the same tactics. The government couldn’t be trusted then and it can’t be trusted now.

I Forgot says:


~No doubt is being played on government time at the tax payers’ expense now, but still, as much as anonymous annoyingly (and illegally, usually) disrupts life for its causes, this should go down in the annals of hackdom as one of the more classic and hilarious efforts of whacking the gov.. turn its site into a video arcade game?? There might be a lot of people who wished they could do that, no? ~And they know who you are!

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