A journalist has been charged by US federal authorities with conspiring with the notorious hacking group Anonymous to deface a story on the Los Angeles Times’ Web site a little more than two years ago.
The federal indictment accuses Matthew Keys of being a “terminated employee” of the Tribune Co who gave hackers the information they needed to log in to the publisher’s computer system in December 2010.
A hacker identified only as “Sharpie” in the indictment is alleged to have used the information to alter a headline on a Times story to include a reference to a hacking group.
Keys, 26, was a former Web producer for the Tribune-owned television station KTXL who was discharged during the company’s bankruptcy proceedings. Several weeks later, he disclosed the log-in information in an Internet chat room frequented by hackers, according to the indictment.
Tribune also owns the Times.
Reuters hired Keys last year as a deputy editor for social media and he was at work on Thursday.
Keys did not return a phone call or respond to e-mail messages seeking comment.
Federal prosecutors allege in court papers that a legendary hacker and Anonymous leader named “Sabu” offered advice on how to infiltrate Tribune’s systems.
The FBI unmasked Sabu when they arrested Hector Xavier Monsegur on June 7, 2011. Monsegur secretly worked as an FBI informant until federal officials announced that he helped them arrest five other alleged hackers on March 6, last year.
Federal officials declined to comment on whether Sabu assisted in the investigation of Keys.
Keys is charged with one count each of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, as well as transmitting and attempting to transmit that information. If convicted, the New Jersey native faces a combined 25 years prison and a US$500,000 fine if sentenced to the maximum on each count.
He is scheduled for arraignment in Sacramento federal court on April 12.
The indictment comes on the heels of recent hacks into the computer systems of two other US media companies that own the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Both newspapers reported last month that their computer systems had been infiltrated by China-based hackers.
The hacker group Anonymous and its offshoot Lulz Security have been linked to a number of high-profile computer attacks and crimes, including many that were meant to embarrass governments, federal agencies and corporate giants.
They have been connected to attacks that took data from FBI partner organization InfraGard, and they have jammed Web sites of the CIA and the Public Broadcasting Service.
A computer security specialist said the incident would be an unusual hack if the government’s charges are accurate.
“This is first case where I’ve heard of someone leaking stuff to Anonymous to have a site defaced, instead of defacing it himself,” said Clifford Neuman, director of University of Southern California Center for Computer Systems Security.
A spokesman for Tribune Co declined to comment.