A former web producer at Tribune Co.’s Sacramento TV station KTXL Fox 40 was indicted Thursday and accused of providing critical login information that allowed notorious hacker “Anonymous” to break into and alter the L.A. Times' website in 2010, shortly after he was terminated by the station.
Matthew Keys, 26, the deputy social media editor of Reuters Thomson, was charged in the Eastern District of California in a three-count indictment. He is slated for arraignment April 12 in Sacramento.
In the hack, members of Anonymous altered a story on House Democrats to read in part, “Pressure Builds in House to Elect CHIPPY 1337.”
One count charged Keys, of Secaucus, N.J., with conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer. Another count accused him transmitting information to damage a protected computer. A third count charged him with attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer.
According to the indictment and a press release issued by the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, Keys in December 2010 identified himself as a former Tribune Co. employee in an internet relay chat channel called #internetfeds.
He subsequently provided Anonymous with log-in credentials for the site and encouraged them to disrupt it, allegedly writing, "Go fuck some shit up."
On March 18, Keys admitted his participation on his Tumblr page, saying: "Earlier today, the website Gawker published a story outing several high-level members of the hacktivist group Anonymous. The Gawker story sourced me in several paragraphs as a journalist who had gained access to secret chat rooms in which high-ranking members of the group would plan various attacks on websites, to be executed by common members of Anonymous in public chat rooms."
He continued: "I identified myself as a journalist during my interaction with the top-level Anonymous hackers and at no time did I offer said individuals any agreement of confidentiality. In fact, I asked several of them for their feelings should they be exposed. They seemed, by and large, indifferent.
"The rest of the aforementioned logs have been sent to an overseas news organization. We are currently coordinating how and when those logs will be released."
The indictment says the log-in credentials he provided were used in at least one of the hacks Anonymous made to the Times site on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, 2010. When the site’s administrators tried to fix the site by locking out the credentials, the indictment said Keys tried to re-enable them.
If convicted, Keys faces up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 for each count. The indictment also contains a notice of forfeiture provision for property traceable to the offense.
The government is also asking that a laptop computer and hard drive be turned over.
The U.S. attorney’s office said the case was investigated by the Sacramento and Los Angeles Field Offices of the FBI. It is being prosecuted by the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California.