News Column

Feds Charge Reuters Employee with Hacking

March 15, 2013

A social-media editor for the Reuters news agency was charged Thursday with conspiring with hacker group "Anonymous" to hack into and alter an online Tribune Co. news story, the Justice Department said. The Los Angeles Times reported that the case involved an attempt to change an online version of a story.

Matthew Keys, 26, of Secaucus, N.J., was named in an indictment in the Eastern District of California. He was charged with one count each of transmitting information to damage a protected computer, attempted transmission and conspiracy, the Justice Department said.

Keys worked for a Sacramento television station, KTXL Fox40, as a Web producer until he was fired in October 2010, the department said. The station and Los Angeles Times are owned by the Tribune Co.

Reuters said in a prepared statement that it was aware of the charges and is "committed to obeying the rules and regulations in every jurisdiction in which it operates." It noted that the indictment cites actions that occurred in 2010, before Keys joined Reuters in 2012, and said the agency would have no further comment.

The indictment alleges that two months after leaving the TV station, Keys provided members of the hacker group Anonymous with log-in credentials to a Tribune Co. server.

The Justice Department said Keys identified himself as a former Tribune employee during an Internet forum chat and provided Anonymous with a log-in and password, then allegedly encouraged group members to disrupt the website.

The indictment alleges that at least one computer hacker used the credentials to log into the Tribune server and make changes to the Web version of a Los Angeles Times story.

The Times displayed on its website a Dec. 14, 2010, story from its Washington bureau that appeared to have been altered. The story, involving congressional action on taxes, had the words "CHIPPY 1337" inserted in the headline and other changes.

If convicted, Keys faces up to 10 years in prison on two counts, five years on the third, and a fine of $250,000 for each , the DOJ said.

Keys allegedly began frequenting the Internet chat room where Anonymous members are known to congregate and discuss capers in late 2010. Gregg Housh, an Internet activist associated with Anonymous, says Keys was well known as himself -- a journalist participating in discussions, as did several other reporters.

Normally, chat room discussions occur in real time, and hacks are carried out spontaneously .

But at the time Keys is alleged to have joined in, Hector Xavier Monsegur was an Anonymous leader, who would eventually become a leader of LulzSec, which engaged in hacks that embarrassed Sony, the Bank of America, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce among more than 50 others.

Monsegur was arrested in June 2011, and became an informant.

"He must have given the authorities everything he could think of to try to get less (prison) time," Housh says of Monsegur.

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Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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