Aaron Swartz, the 24-year-old co-founder of the social news site Reddit, faced a judge yesterday on charges that he hacked into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology network and stole millions of documents from the university.
Swartz, of Cambridge, could face up to 35 years in prison and a fine of $1 million if convicted of the wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information and recklessly damaging a protected computer charges against him.
His federal indictment was unsealed yesterday.
Prosecutors alleged in their indictment that Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT to access the school’s network last fall and early this year.
“Swartz returned to the wiring closet to remove his computer equipment. This time he attempted to evade identification at the entrance to the restricted area. As Swartz entered the wiring closet, he held his bicycle helmet like a mask to shield his face, looking through ventilation holes in the helmet,” according to the indictment.
It is alleged that he did that in order to download a major portion of archived digitized academic journals on to his computer.
The journals were a part of JSTOR, a paid subscription database used to access millions of primary sources. Some universities pay as much as $50,000 for an annual subscription.
Prosecutors said that Swartz intended to distribute a significant portion of JSTOR’s archive through other file-sharing sites.
Authorities also said they are unaware of any personal identifying information being stolen as a result of the alleged hack.