Journalist Accused of Helping Hackers

Photo: Yvane Dube | Vetta | Getty Images

A prominent social media journalist has been charged with conspiring with a member of the Anonymous hacking collective to hack into and "deface" the website of the Los Angeles Times.

Matthew Keys, 26, is now deputy social media editor for Reuters with more than 23,000 followers on Twitter. He was a web producer for KTXL Fox 40, a Sacramento television station owned by Tribune, the parent company of the LA Times, until his contract was terminated in October 2010.

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The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of California alleged on Thursday that in December 2010 Mr Keys provided Anonymous members with the login and password details to access a Tribune server.

A hacker using the nickname Sharpie allegedly then accessed the server and changed a web version of an LA Times article. After the hacker was locked out by Tribune system administrators, Mr Keys attempted to regain access, the DoJ alleged.

A Justice Department court filing said Hector Xavier Monsegur, a hacker known as Sabu who has been co-operating with the FBI for months, appeared in the same chat log and offered advice on how to conduct the network intrusion.

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If convicted, Mr Keys could face 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 for each of three counts. The charges come as the US is raising the rhetoric against commercial and state-sponsored cyber crime.

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Mr Keys did not immediately reply to a voicemail message and a Tribune spokesman declined to comment. He has been summoned to appear in court on April 12.

Thomson Reuters said in a statement: "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."

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When Reuters hired Mr Keys, it called him "a recognized leader in helping journalists turn social media into valuable reporting tools," whose online guides to Tumblr, YouTube and Twitter had helped many journalists make better use of social media.

Mr Keys, a finalist in the 2011 Online Journalism Awards for his coverage of Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, wrote about Sabu and the defaced LA Times article in a piece for Reuters in March last year.

"Sabu's fate – indicted and talking – is a long way from how he led me to believe he would act if he ever ended up face-to-face with the law," he wrote: "He said he would try to destroy the reputation of anyone who might expose him or ruin his reputation or that of Anonymous."