The Department of Justice announced today that Matthew Keys, deputy social media editor at Thomson Reuters and former employee of a Fox affiliate in Sacramento, has been indicted for allegedly giving members of Anonymous login information to hack the Los Angeles Times website.

The department's statement reads, in part:

The three-count indictment alleges that in December 2010 Keys provided members of the hacker group Anonymous with log-in credentials for a computer server belonging to KTXL FOX 40’s corporate parent, the Tribune Company. According to the indictment, Keys identified himself on an Internet chat forum as a former Tribune Company employee and provided members of Anonymous with a login and password to the Tribune Company server. After providing log-in credentials, Keys allegedly encouraged the Anonymous members to disrupt the website.

The full indictment, available here via Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly (who also broke the story), suggests that the hack involved the manipulation of this Times story from December 14, 2010. The story, titled "Pressure builds in House to pass tax-cut package" was renamed "Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337." The story summary was similarly edited to read, "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."

Keys' alleged role, according to the indictment, was to provide the hackers with a username (apparently, "anon1234") and password in an Internet Relay Chat channel called #internetfeds. After providing that information, Keys allegedly wrote "go fuck some shit up", using the handle AESCracked. AESCracked also suggested that he had "a hard drive full of Tribune crap" but that he didn't have it available.

BuzzFeed notes that Keys wrote about his involvement with Anonymous last year on his Tumblr page. Referring to this article, it reads in part:

Earlier today, the website Gawker published a story outing several high-level members of the hacktivist group Anonymous. The Gawker story sourced me in several paragraphs as a journalist who had gained access to secret chat rooms in which high-ranking members of the group would plan various attacks on websites, to be executed by common members of Anonymous in public chat rooms.

I provided Gawker with just one of dozens of logs that were taken during my two-month access to top level hackers within Anonymous.

Keys is a well-known figure in social media. Time identified his as one of the top 140 Twitter Feeds of 2012. In 2011, he was a finalist for an award from the Online News Association for his personal coverage of the Japanese earthquake.

The attorneys assigned to the case are Mythili Raman and Benjamin Wagner. Raman is Acting Assistant Attorney General for Justice's Criminal division. Wagner has served as U.S. Attorney role since 2009, having spent the prior decade prosecuting corruption, fraud, and cyber crimes. Earlier this year, he was criticized for insisting on the mandatory minimum sentence for a man charged with growing marijuana.

Wagner is also the attorney who prosecuted Hector Xavier Monsegur, a hacker associated with LulzSec, the group responsible for a series of hacks including of the security firm HBGary. Monsegur, also known as "Sabu", ultimately agreed to cooperate with the government.

Sabu may also have been the first person to reveal the charges against Keys. In March 2011, a few months before his arrest, a Twitter account claiming to be associated with Sabu tweeted the following, as spotted by Adam Taylor:

Charged with three counts related to "transmitting information to damage a protected computer,", Keys could face 25 years in prison (10 years for two of the charges and 5 for the charge of conspiracy) and up to $750,000 in fines if found guilty on each charge. The severity of the possible punishment faced by Keys reminded some of those faced by Aaron Swartz, the hacker whose arrest rose to national attention earlier this year after he committed suicide.

 

Update (7:32 p.m.): Reuters has issued the following statement about Keys:

We are aware of the charges brought by the Department of Justice against Matthew Keys, an employee of our news organization. Thomson Reuters is committed to obeying the rules and regulations in every jurisdiction in which it operates. 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.

The charges and possible penalties Keys faces, as articulated in the indictment.

Top image from a video by Amanda Fiscina via Vimeo.