Former Tribune Co. Staffer Charged With Helping Anonymous Hack L.A. Times

Media and Marketers Struggle to Fend Off Digital Mischief

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A former web producer for a Tribune Co. TV station was accused by federal prosecutors of conspiring with the hacker group called Anonymous to break into a Tribune news website.

Matthew Keys, 26, was charged in an indictment yesterday with providing log-in credentials to Anonymous members for a computer server belonging to Tribune, the Justice Department said in a statement. Prosecutors said Mr. Keys, formerly the web producer for KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento and now deputy social media editor at Thomson Reuters, encouraged Anonymous members to disrupt the website.

One hacker used the credentials to log into the server and make changes to the web version of story in Tribune's Los Angeles Times, the Justice Department said. Mr. Keys, after allegedly trying to help the hacker when he was initially unsuccessful with the login, learned that he made changes to content on the site and wrote "nice" in an internet chat-room conversation, according to the statement.

Media and marketer brands have come under relatively steady assault by mischievous hackers. Last month Jeep and Burger King found their Twitter feeds taken over by outsiders. Anonymous is a loosely affiliated group of computer hackers who have claimed responsibility for computer crimes including intrusions and denial-of-service attacks on the websites of Amazon and PayPal, among others. The charges against Mr. Keys suggest a new challenge in fending off hacks -- the potential participation by company employees.

The Tribune TV station where Mr. Keys worked learned that its e-mail contact list had been compromised in December 2010, according to an FBI affidavit. The station's news producer began receiving unsolicited e-mails from someone claiming to have the e-mail addresses of Fox 40's customers. The producer told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Mr. Keys, who had been let go a month before the hacking, was a potential suspect, according to the affidavit.

Mr. Keys is charged with one count each of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer, and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer. The two latter counts each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, prosecutors said. An April 12 arraignment is scheduled in federal court in Sacramento. Mr. Keys didn't immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment on the charges.

David Girardin, a Thomson Reuters spokesman, said in a e-mailed statement that the company is "aware of the charges." Mr. Keys joined the Reuters news organization last year, according to the statement.

"Any legal violations, or failures to comply with the company's own strict set of principles and standards, can result in disciplinary action," Mr. Girardin said. He said the company declined to comment on specifics of the case.

Nancy Sullivan, a Los Angeles Times spokeswoman, also declined to comment.

Michael Petrik, an attorney for Keys at the federal public defender's office in Sacramento, didn't immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment about the charges.

~ Bloomberg News and Ad Age staff ~

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