SAN FRANCISCO — On Thursday, federal authorities charged a journalist with conspiring with the notorious hacking group Anonymous to deface a story on the Los Angeles Times’ Web site a little more than two years ago.
The federal indictment handed down in Sacramento accuses Matthew Keys of being a “terminated employee” of the Tribune Co. who gave hackers the information they needed to log in to the publisher’s computer system in December 2010. A hacker identified only as “Sharpie” in the indictment is alleged to have used the information to alter a headline on a Times story to include a reference to a hacking group.
Keys, 26, was a former Web producer for the Tribune-owned television station KTXL who was discharged during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. Several weeks later, he disclosed the login information in an Internet chat room frequented by hackers, according to the indictment. Tribune also owns the Times.
Reuters hired Keys in 2012 as a deputy editor for social media, and he was at work Thursday. He did not return a phone call or respond to e-mail messages seeking comment. A post on his Twitter account late Thursday read: “I am fine. I found out the same way most of you did: From Twitter. Tonight I’m going to take a break. Tomorrow, business as usual.”
Reuters spokesman David Girardin said that Keys began working for the company in 2012 and that it was “aware” of the indictment. Girardin declined to comment further.
According to the indictment, Sharpie altered a Times news story posted Dec. 14 and 15, 2010, to read “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337,” a reference to another hacking group. “Chippy 1337” claimed responsibility for defacing the Web site of video game publisher Eidos in 2011.
The indictment alleges that a second attempt to hack the Times was unsuccessful.
Federal prosecutors allege in court papers that a legendary hacker and Anonymous leader named “Sabu” offered advice on how to infiltrate Tribune’s systems. The FBI unmasked Sabu when it arrested Hector X. Monsegur on June 7, 2011. Monsegur secretly worked as an FBI informant until federal officials announced that he helped them arrest five other alleged hackers March 6, 2012.
Federal officials declined to comment on whether Sabu assisted in the investigation of Keys.
Keys is charged with one count each of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, as well as transmitting and attempting to transmit that information. If convicted, the New Jersey native faces a combined 25 years prison and a $500,000 fine if sentenced to the maximum for each count. He is scheduled for arraignment in Sacramento federal court April 12.