Anonymous Hack of L.A. Times Traced to Former Tribune Co. Web Producer

A federal indictment was handed down March 14 accusing a man of helping hackers get unauthorized access to the Tribune Co.'s computer systems.

U.S. federal authorities have accused a Thomson Reuters social media editor of conspiring with hacktivists in the Anonymous collective to break into the Tribune Co. computer system.

Matthew Keys, 26, of Secaucus, N.J., was charged March 14 in 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.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Keys was formerly employed by Sacramento-based television station KTXL FOX 40 as a Web producer and was terminated from that job in October 2010. The Tribune Company owns the station.

In December 2010, the indictment contends, individuals identifying themselves as members of Anonymous had a conversation in an IRC channel known as #internetfeds in which one person expressed a desire to obtain access to FOX computer systems.

According to authorities, Keys—operating under the nickname AESCracked—then allegedly provided members of Anonymous with log-in credentials for the Tribune Company's content management system on an Internet chat forum. After handing over the log-in information, Keys reputedly told the hackers to use the credentials and "go [expletive] some [expletive] up."

In the aftermath, the indictment alleges that at least one hacker used the credentials to alter an online version of a Los Angeles Times story on or about Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, 2010, to read as follows:

Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPP1337.

House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer sees 'very good things' in the deal cut which will see uber skid Chippy 1337 take his rightful place, as head of the Senate, reluctant House Democrats told to SUCK IT UP. By CHIPPYS No1 fan.

The indictment also alleges that Keys had a conversation with the hacker who claimed credit for defacing the Los Angeles Times Website, and that the hacker told Keys the Tribune Company system administrators had shut down the hacker's access. According to the indictment, Keys then attempted to regain access for the hacker, and complimented the hacker when he learned of the changes to the Los Angeles Times story.

A spokesperson for Reuters said the company is aware of the indictment.

"Thomson Reuters is committed to obeying the rules and regulations in every jurisdiction in which it operates," the spokesperson said in a statement. "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."

After the indictment was made public, Keys wrote on Twitter that he had learned of the charges through the social network.

"I am fine. I found out the same way most of you did: From Twitter. Tonight I'm going to take a break. Tomorrow, business as usual," he wrote.

If convicted of all counts, Keys faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison as well as a fine.