Updated: March 14, 2013, 9:06 PM
Matthew Keys, a deputy social media editor at Reuters, was indicted in federal court in California on Thursday for allegedly conspiring with members of the hacker group Anonymous to deface the website of The Los Angeles Times.
Keys, 26, faces three charges, including one count of transmitting information to damage a protected computer, and he could get 25 years in prison and be forced to pay $750,000 in fines if convicted on all counts.
According to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California, Keys provided members of Anonymous with log-in credentials for a computer server belonging to the Sacramento, Calif.-based television station KTXL FOX 40 in December 2010. Keys had worked for KTXL as a web producer until October 2010, when he was terminated. KTXL is owned by the Tribune Company, which also owns The Los Angeles Times. On Dec. 8, 2010, after allegedly giving the self-proclaimed Anonymous members in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel a username and password, Keys told them to “go fuck some shit up.”
On either Dec. 14 or Dec. 15, 2010, a member of the conspiracy using the username “ngarcia” allegedly altered content on a Times news story. Among other changes, a headline was edited to read, “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337.” The changes were apparently live for only a half hour. On Dec. 15, the indictment alleges, Keys, using the name “AESCracked,” chatted with the person who had previously used the “ngracia” name and who was then writing to Keys under the name “sharpie.”
“that was such a buzz having my edit… on the LA Times,” sharpie wrote.
“Nice,” Keys responded.
Keys began working for Reuters in January 2012, according to his LinkedIn page, and he was named one of the 140 best Twitter feeds of 2012 by Time magazine. It has been publicly reported since at least March 2011 that Keys had “infiltrated” Anonymous. And in March 2012, he wrote an article for Reuters about a hacker known as Sabu, whose real name is Hector Xavier Monsegur. Monsegur was arrested in 2011, and has been cooperating with authorities. (As Gizmodo points out, Keys’ role in the Times hack was apparently outed by Monsegur on Twitter in 2011.)
“Sabu’s fate — indicted and talking — is a long way from how he led me to believe he would act if he ever ended up face-to-face with the law,” Keys wrote.
On Thursday, prosecutors in California filed a “notice of related cases” linking Keys’ and Monsegur’ cases.
“Defendant Monsegur, who used the nickname ‘Sabu,’ appeared in the Internet chat log at the core of the Keys case, and in that chat log, offered advise [sic] on how to conduct the network intrusion,” prosecutors wrote in the filing. “Monsegur later became a cooperating defendant in the Southern District of New York.”
Keys, who was using Twitter as recently as 3 p.m. Eastern time Thursday afternoon, did not respond to an email from TPM.
David Girardin, a spokesman for Thomson Reuters, gave the following statement to TPM on Thursday:
We are aware of the charges brought by the Department of Justice against Matthew Keys, an employee of our news organization. Thomson Reuters is committed to obeying the rules and regulations in every jurisdiction in which it operates. Any legal violations, or failures to comply with the company’s own strict set of principles and standards, can result in disciplinary action. We would also observe the indictment alleges the conduct occurred in December 2010; Mr. Keys joined Reuters in 2012, and while investigations continue we will have no further comment.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com