A Sacramento, California jury has found journalist Matthew Keys, former social media editor at Reuters and an ex-employee of KTXL Fox 40, guilty of computer hacking charges related to aiding members of the Anonymous hacking collective.
Back in 2012, Keys posing under his online alias AESCracked, posted login credentials for the Tribune Media company content management system in an Anonymous-run chatroom, resulting in the defacement of an LA Times article featured on the homepage. The article defacement was reversed within 40 minutes, yet the government continues to argue the defacement racked up nearly a million dollars in damages.
The article in question was allegedly altered by the Anonymous hacker, Sharpie, who changed the LA Times article headline to read: “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337”.
Within the article, the opening paragraph was also altered to include “reluctant House Democrats told to SUCK IT UP”.
“The government wanted to send a clear message that if you want to cover a group they don’t agree with, and you’re not complicit with them [the government], they will target you,” Keys told Motherboard Vice after his trial.
Keys was found guilty on all three counts of criminal acts he was charged with, including conspiracy to commit computer hacking, the transmission of malicious code causing unauthorized damage to a protected computer, and attempting to transmit malicious code to cause unauthorized damage to a protected computer.
The Justice Department has yet to determine the sentence they will request, however Keys could face a maximum of 25 years, but in a statement given after the trial, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorneys office said Keys will likely face less than five years.
“While it has not been determined what the government will be asking the court for, it will likely be less than 5 years,” spokeswoman Lauren Horwood said.
“This is not the crime of the century,” said Matt Segal, Assistant US Attorney, adding that Keys should not get off scot-free from his crime. At an absolute minimum, Keys could face probation, however his sentencing is scheduled to occur sometime January 2016.
Following the trial, Keys expressed his disappointment on Twitter:
That was bullshit.
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) October 7, 2015
Keys explained to Motherboard that he was disappointed with the verdict, and worried the sentencing will affect his ability to continue work. Keys and his lawyer said they are going to appeal the conviction, and are optimistic it could be overturned.
A few months after Keys published his first story on Anonymous, the FBI approached him, however Keys refused to allow them to scan his computer he explained. He was indicted a few years down the road.
In order for the journalist to be charged under the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act, the alleged damages have to exceed $5,000. Government entities claim the article defacement caused $929,977.00 worth of damage. During the trial, the defense countered, stating that the alleged charges in response to the hack were not reasonable, and that Tribune Media company employees grossly inflated the hours it spent to respond to the incident.
“This case demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to identify and investigate those who harass former employers by using insider knowledge to intentionally exploit computer systems—whether directly or by proxy—to damage the reputation and operations of a business,” said Special Agent Monica M. Miller of the FBI’s Sacramento field office in a statement. “Individuals who use ‘bully’ tactics to attack computer networks will face justice for their actions.”
Matthew Keys officials charges include:
Count 1: Conspiracy
Count 2: Transmission of Malicious Code
Count 3: At temped Transmission of Malicious Code
[Photo via Sarah Jeong/Motherboard Vice]