“I believe that it is very possible,” former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a rapt audience at Georgetown University earlier this month, “the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack that would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America.” That’s a belief Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shares—in January, she urged Congress not to “wait until there is a 9/11 in the cyber world” to act on cyber-security legislation. Subtle warnings, these are not.
Over the past 12 months, hackers have broken into the networks of major news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal in a string of audacious security breaches. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that cyber-security incidents reported by federal agencies have risen 800 percent since 2006. Chinese hackers infiltrated the networks of nearly 800 U.S. companies and research institutions between 2000 and 2010, siphoning trillions of dollars in trade secrets and industrial IP. “They are stealing everything that isn’t bolted down,” warned House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers, the lead sponsor of CISPA—the bill designed to counter these cyber threats. “And it’s getting exponentially worse.”
“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.”
That message greeted visitors to the United States Sentencing Commission website the evening of January 25.. The words were part of a ten-minute video manifesto embedded on the homepage of the commission, responsible for writing the sentencing policies and guidelines for Federal courts. The death of the Internet savant and information activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life due at least in part to the outsized charges he was facing at the hands of the U.S. justice system, was still an open wound for most tech-literate net dwellers. No group took the news of Swartz’s passing more personally than “Anonymous.” The hactivist collective swore vengeance, citing the "highly disproportionate sentencing" of Swartz and others like him, and commenced the darkly named “Operation Last Resort,” hijacking numerous Department of Justice websites and sending “nuclear warheads” packed with stolen DOJ records hurtling across the Internet.