Matthew Keys, a former web producer for KTXL Fox 40 who advanced to the top ranks of social media journalism, was found guilty Wednesday by a jury in Sacramento federal court of conspiring to hack into the computer system of the Los Angeles Times.
At the conclusion of an eight-day trial, the jury of 11 women and one man deliberated less than a day before delivering its verdict that Keys, in December 2010, gave the hacking group Anonymous login credentials for servers of Chicago-based Tribune Co., which then owned the Times, Fox 40 and other communications properties. A hacker with the handle “sharpie” subsequently altered a news story that was on the front of the paper’s website.
The story was restored to its original form in less than an hour.
Keys, 28, who now lives in Vacaville, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 20 on one count of conspiracy, one count of transmitting malicious code and one count of attempted transmission of malicious code. Criminal defense lawyers who practice in federal court said he probably faces three to five years in prison, although prosecutors may seek a longer term because Keys chose to go to trial. His attorneys called no witnesses and rested the defense immediately upon the government finishing its presentation of evidence.
Keys’ contacts with Anonymous came two months after Fox 40 fired him for being openly critical of his employer’s operations and policies, according to a government trial brief.
According to trial evidence, Keys changed the access credentials of Fox 40 employees after he left the station, interfering with their ability to access company servers. In addition, trial evidence showed that he obtained email addresses of Fox 40 viewers, to whom he sent messages disparaging the company.
Keys was the deputy social media editor for British wire service Reuters when he was indicted in March 2013. He was subsequently hailed by advocates of increased Internet freedom as a poster boy for the government’s overzealous prosecutions based on the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
“Although this case has drawn attention because of Matthew Keys’ employment in the news media, this was simply a case about a disgruntled employee who used his technical skills to taunt and torment his former employer,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner after the verdict in a prepared statement. “Although he did no lasting damage, Keys did interfere with the business of news organizations, and caused the Tribune Co. to spend thousands of dollars protecting its servers. Those who use the Internet to carry out personal vendettas against former employers should know that there are consequences for such conduct.”
Tribune Co. in 2014 spun off its newspapers into the Tribune Publishing Co. and kept its television and digital holdings in a newly named Tribune Media.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189