Matthew Keys, a social media journalist, was found guilty Wednesday of aiding members of the hacking group Anonymous gain access to the Los Angeles Times’ website and deface a story in 2010. Prosecutors said Keys supported the hacking by providing the group with login information of the Times’ computer system and also praised the results.
Keys, a 28-year-old resident of Vacaville, Northern California, helped Anonymous break into the system of Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Fox 40, among other media companies, after he reportedly left his job at Sacramento TV station Fox 40 in 2010 following a dispute with a supervisor. In 2012, Keys joined as a Reuters.com editor and he was fired by the news agency after charges were filed in 2013, according to the Associated Press (AP).
"Although this case has drawn attention because of Matthew Keys' employment in the news media, this was simply a case about a disgruntled employee who used his technical skills to taunt and torment his former employer," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said, in a statement.
According to a 2013 indictment, Keys contacted the hackers through an Internet chat room and identified himself as an employee of the Tribune and helped them gain access to the system. The hacking cost the company about $18,000 for the 333 hours that employees spent responding to the breach, the AP reported.
However, Keys' attorneys said the media company took less than an hour to restore the original headline, byline and initial paragraphs of the story, titled “Pressure Builds In House To Pass Tax-Cut Package.” Moreover, the cost fell below the $5,000 loss to make the violation a felony, the lawyers reportedly argued.
Keys’ attorneys also said that the alteration to the story was a rather harmless prank and he did not deserve a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison, the AP reported. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 20, 2016, and Keys is likely to receive imprisonment of less than five years, Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, told Reuters.
Tor Ekeland, one of the defense attorneys, reportedly said that Keys will appeal the upcoming decision, without commenting further.
Keys has long been a voice of considerable influence regarding social media and the hacking culture. He was named in Forbes reporter Parmy Olson’s 2012 book “We Are Anonymous” and his Twitter account was ranked among Time magazine’s Top 140 Twitter accounts of 2012.