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There's been an interesting twist in an ongoing story about political hacking. A federal grand jury has indicted a 26-year-old deputy social media editor at reuters.com for conspiring with the hacking group Anonymous. The group is known for hacking into websites to make political statements. According to the indictment, Matthew Keys helped Anonymous break into the computers of his former employer, the Tribune Company. NPR's Laura Sydell has more.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Our story begins back in October of 2010 when Matthew Keys was let go from his job at Fox 40, a Tribune-owned TV station in Sacramento, California. On December 14th, someone hacked into the website of one of the Tribune's other news properties, the L.A. Times. The intruder changed a headline from Pressure Builds in House to Pass Tax-Cut Package to Pressure Builds in House to Elect CHIPPY 1337. According to the federal indictment, Keys conspired with the hacker group Anonymous to stage the attack and change the headline.
Keys, who had been reporting on Anonymous, had managed to gain access to an online chat room where members of the group hung out. According to the federal indictment, using the name AESCracked, Keys shared all of his login and personal information from his former employer with one of the hackers. The indictment has a screenshot where AESCracked responds to news from one of the hackers that they got into the Tribune website by writing LOL, laughing out loud.
The hacker identified as Sharpie says he's having trouble staying inside the system. AESCracked responds by saying, I can grant you access again. The Justice Department would not comment for this story, but Keys' newly appointed attorney, Jay Leiderman, had this to say about the accusations.
JAY LEIDERMAN: He didn't hand over passwords, login credentials, anything like that to Anonymous.
SYDELL: Leiderman claims that Keys is being falsely accused by a former Anonymous member named Sabu, whose real name is Hector Monsegur. Monsegur was arrested by federal authorities and has been cooperating with the larger investigation into the activities of Anonymous. Leiderman thinks that Monsegur, who faces over 100 years in prison, is just trying to please federal prosecutors.
LEIDERMAN: When you're looking down a barrel at a 124-year prison sentence, you are liable to say anything.
SYDELL: Leiderman says Keys is a journalist who wrote a good article looking at Anonymous from the inside, and by indicting Keys, the federal government is trying to send a signal.
LEIDERMAN: Because Anonymous receives so much press, so much interest from the media, this was a shot across the bow of journalists. If you embed yourself with Anonymous, if you dare tell their story, we're going to prosecute you.
SYDELL: Keys' current employer, Reuters, has suspended him from his position where he's a social media editor. According to Reuters' own reporting, Keys got in some trouble there last fall. He covertly created a parody Twitter account, mocking Google's CEO Larry Page. The indictment of Keys has drawn the attention of Internet civil rights groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF. Keys is being charged under the Computer Fraud Abuse Act, and he could face as much as 25 years in prison, says EFF attorney Hanni Fakhoury. Fakhoury says the law is too harsh.
HANNI FAKHOURY: He's charged with a felony for behavior that if done in the physical world, if you think of someone who spray-paints graffiti on a freeway sign, will maybe be charged with a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
SYDELL: Keys is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Sacramento on April 12th. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.