Matthew Keys, the former web producer and social media manager accused of helping hacking group Anonymous deface the LA Times website, has been found guilty on three criminal counts. Keys faces up to 25 years in prison on counts of conspiracy to cause damage to a protected computer, transmission of malicious code, and attempted transmission of malicious code, after he allegedly handed over the login details for websites owned by the Tribune Company to a chatroom operated by Anonymous in 2010. According to chat logs, Keys — who was fired from his position as a web producer for KTXL FOX40 News in October of that year — pasted the details and told other users to "fuck shit up."
Keys says he was trying to infiltrate Anonymous
The subsequent defacement was minor — a story about a tax cut package in Congress was altered with a few mentions of "CHIPPY 1337" — and Keys' defense said it was reversed within an hour. But the prosecution claimed the damage cost the Tribune Company $5,000 to rectify, a figure that Keys' lawyers attacked as being unreasonably high, and inflated specifically by the use of expensive consultants so the case could be tried under the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (which requires the case to be involving more than $5,000 as a jurisdictional minimum). The prosecution pointed out emails supposedly sent from Keys' boss at KTXL FOX40 that said "if you bill a thousand dollars an hour, that will help us get it prosecuted."
Keys has argued that he was attempting to infiltrate Anonymous as a journalist looking for a "headline-grabbing story," and that when he provided the information in December 2010, he did not know that the other participants in the chatroom would go on to become high-profile hackers. Keys did subsequently monitor the group, providing logs of Anonymous chatrooms to Gawker in 2011, and writing a story on the hacker collective's "war room" for his then-employers Reuters in 2012. After leaving KTXL FOX40, Keys joined Reuters as a social media manager, but was fired from his role at around the time he was indicted for allegedly leaking the Tribune Company's login details — he says for his inaccurate reporting on the Boston bombing.
Speaking to Sarah Jeong, covering the trial for Motherboard, Keys said that "the government wanted to send a clear message that if you want to cover a group they don't agree with, and you're not complicit with them [the government], they will target you." He also tweeted a more succinct statement after the verdict was made.
That was bullshit.— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) October 7, 2015
Although Keys' actions could have earned him 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine, Jeong says the US Attorney's Office is likely to push for less than five behind bars, and he may receive probation as a minimum. Sentencing is due to start in January next year.