A former Web producer for a Tribune Co.-owned television station in Sacramento, California, was accused by federal prosecutors of conspiring with the hacker group “Anonymous” to break into a Tribune news website.
Matthew Keys, 26, of Secaucus, New Jersey, was charged in an indictment yesterday with providing log-in credentials to Anonymous members for a computer server belonging to Tribune, the Justice Department said in a statement. Prosecutors said Keys, formerly the Web producer for KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento and now deputy social media editor at Thomson Reuters Corp., encouraged Anonymous members to disrupt the website.
One hacker used the credentials to log into the server and make changes to the Web version of a Los Angeles Times story, the Justice Department said. Tribune owns the newspaper. Keys, after allegedly trying to help the hacker when he was initially unsuccessful with the login, learned that he made changes to content on the site and wrote “nice” in an Internet chat-room conversation, according to the statement. He was terminated by Fox 40 in October 2010.
The station learned that its e-mail contact list, located on a company server in Los Angeles, had been compromised in December 2010, according to an FBI affidavit. The station’s news producer began receiving unsolicited e-mails from someone claiming to have the e-mail addresses of Fox 40’s customers.
The producer told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Keys, who had been let go a month before the hacking, was a potential suspect, according to the affidavit.
Tor Ekeland, a lawyer for Keys, said in a phone interview that he maintains his client’s innocence and looks forward to “contesting these charges in court.” He said his client has been suspended with pay from Reuters.
Anonymous is a loosely affiliated group of computer hackers who have claimed responsibility for computer crimes including intrusions and denial-of-service attacks on the websites of Amazon.com Inc. and PayPal Inc., among others.
Keys is charged 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.
The two latter counts each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, prosecutors said. An April 12 arraignment is scheduled in federal court in Sacramento.
Keys didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment on the charges.
David Girardin, a Thomson Reuters spokesman, said in a e-mailed statement that the company is “aware of the charges.”
Keys joined the Reuters news organization last year, according to the statement.
“Any legal violations, or failures to comply with the company’s own strict set of principles and standards, can result in disciplinary action,” Girardin said. He said the company declined to comment on specifics of the case.
Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, competes with Thomson Reuters in providing financial news and information.
Nancy Sullivan, a Los Angeles Times spokeswoman, also declined to comment.
The case is U.S. v. Keys, 13-cr-00082, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Sacramento).