Reuters Journalist Indicted After Conspiring With Hacking Group Anonymous
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The hacktivist group Anonymous has been busy this year, reportedly hacking the computers of the US Federal Reserve, the US State Department Careers Website and even fast-food restaurant Burger King’s official Twitter account.
Exactly how the group was able to access all those organizations’ computers remains a point of debate. However, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) released information today that indicates a hack job on the website of the Tribune Company, which might have included part of The Los Angeles Times’ website, may have been the result of a so-called “inside job.”
The Justice Department announced on Thursday that a former web producer for a Tribune Company-owned TV station, KTXL FOX 40 in Sacramento, Calif., was charged in an indictment for allegedly conspiring with members of the hacker group known as Anonymous. He was charged with three hacking-related counts and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted in an incident going back to December 2010.
He also faces a $250,000 fine for each account. Authorities are reportedly seeking forfeiture of the alleged tools he used to commit the offenses, including his MacBook Pro computer.
“Matthew Keys, 26, of Secaucus, New Jersey, was charged in the Eastern District of California with one count each of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer,” read the official release from the DOJ.
Keys, now working with Reuters as a deputy social media editor, was a Web producer with KTXL, owned by Tribune, until October 2010 when he was terminated. According to Fox News, that December he allegedly joined an Internet chat under the name AESCracked and offered members of Anonymous information to access Tribune’s servers.
According to federal authorities, Keys reportedly provided a username and password for Tribune servers to the group via an online chat room. With that information prosecutors allege that this access allowed hackers to log in as “ngarcia” and alter a news story on the website of The Los Angeles Times, changing a headline to read “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337.”
The indictment noted that Tribune spent more than $5,000 responding to the attack and restoring its various systems.
Anonymous, along with its offshoot Lulz Security, have been linked to a number of high profile computer attacks, but this particular case is notable in that it was accomplished with help from an insider.
“This is first case where I’ve heard of someone leaking stuff to Anonymous to have a site defaced, instead of defacing it himself,” Clifford Neuman, director of University of Southern California Center for Computer Systems Security told The Wall Street Journal on Friday. “He found some way to achieve his ends of defacing the website without having to do it himself.”
A spokesperson for Reuters commented that Keys joined the company in 2012, more than a year after the alleged conduct, but declined further comment, while the Times has not commented on the incident.
The fact that the DOJ is taking this so seriously has surprised some security and legal experts.
“It was a prank,” Jay Leiderman, a Ventura, California-based criminal defense attorney who has represented hackers, told The Los Angeles Times. “It really could have been handled civilly through a lawsuit.”