A journalist with the Reuters news service was charged Thursday by federal authorities with assisting the Anonymous hackers group in their successful effort to deface a story on the Los Angeles Times' Web site. The incident took place in December 2010, and Reuters has suspended the employee with pay.
According to the indictment in Sacramento, Calif., Matthew Keys was a "terminated employee" of the Tribune Co., and he provided the credentials needed to log in to the company's system. The Times is owned by the Tribune Co. The indictment is for conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, as well as transmitting and attempting to transmit the information. A conviction on all counts could result in up to 25 years in jail and a $500,000 fine.
The episode resulted in the headline of a Times story being modified on December 14 and 15, 2010, to read "Pressure building in House to elect CHIPPY 1337." Chippy 1337 is a hacking group that has said it was responsible for an attack on the Web site of a video game publisher in 2011. The Times story was related to taxes.
Per the indictment, the attack was undertaken by a hacker ID'd only as Sharpie.
The indictment said that Sharpie wrote to Keys after the hacking incident that there "was such a buzz having my edit on the LA Times." The authorities said Keys, using a virtual private network and the alias of AESCracked, replied "nice." The Times reportedly had to spend more than $5,000 to clean up after the attack.
Keys had been a producer at the Web site of KTXL-TV in Sacramento, also owned by the Tribune, and he was let go during the company's bankruptcy proceedings. Now 26, he reportedly had revealed the login information in a chat room frequently visited by hackers. Last year, Keys became a deputy editor for social media at the Reuters. In March of last year, Keys authored a story for Reuters about his "infiltrating" that hackers chat room.
'Business as Usual'
Keys posted Thursday on Twitter that he was "fine," and added that "I found out the same way most of you did," on Twitter. He said he was going to take a break, and then "business as usual."
The indictment includes a reference to the arrest of a hacker known as Sabu, but it does not indicate what the connection to Keys might be. In June 2011, the FBI arrested Hector Xavier Monsegur, whom they identified as an Anonymous hacker named Sabu. Following the arrest, Monsegur worked as a federal informant, and he helped the authorities arrest five other hackers on March 6 of last year. On March 7, Keys' story about infiltrating the chat room appeared on Reuters.
Attacks on publications' Web sites and internal systems are becoming more common. Last month, for instance, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported that their systems had been compromised by hackers based in China. In those cases, the attacks were considered to have targeted internal information about those newspapers' coverage of events in China.