Social media editor charged in hacking conspiracy

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A deputy social media editor for Reuters vowed that Friday would be “business as usual” despite charges of conspiring with the notorious hacking group Anonymous to deface an online story of the Los Angeles Times.

Federal authorities allege that in December 2010, Matthew Keys, 26, provided hackers with login information to access the computer system of the Tribune Co., the parent company of the Times that also owns a Sacramento television station Keys was fired from months before.

Investigators allege that Keys gave a hacker named “Sharpie” the information in an Internet chat room frequented by hackers and urged the hacker to do some damage to the Tribune Co.

According to the indictment, Sharpie altered a Times news story posted Dec. 14 and 15, 2010, to read “Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337,” a reference to another hacking group. “Chippy 1337” claimed responsibility for defacing the website of video game publisher Eidos in 2011.

Keys’ Facebook page says he worked as an online news producer for the Sacramento FOX affiliate KTXL from June 2008 to April 2010.

The news agency Reuters hired Keys in 2012 as a deputy editor for social media and he was at work Thursday. He didn’t return a phone call or respond to email messages seeking comment. Reuters spokesman David Girardin said the company was “aware” of the indictment when Keys was hired last year, but he declined further comment.

“I am fine,” Keys tweeted Thursday, hours after his federal indictment was announced. “I found out the same way most of you did: From Twitter. Tonight I’m going to take a break. Tomorrow, business as usual.”

The indictment alleges that a second attempt to hack the Times was unsuccessful.

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 it 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, 2012.

Federal officials declined to comment on whether Sabu assisted in the investigation of Keys.

The day after it was announced that Sabu was an FBI informant, Keys wrote a story for Reuters about “infiltrating” the hackers’ chat room.

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 $500,000 fine if sentenced to the maximum for each count.

He is scheduled for arraignment April 12 in Sacramento.

The indictment comes after recent hacks into the computer systems of two other U.S. media companies that own The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Both newspapers reported in February that their computer systems had been infiltrated by China-based hackers, likely to monitor media coverage the Chinese government deems important.

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’ve jammed websites of the CIA and the Public Broadcasting Service.

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