A former Reuters journalist was found guilty Wednesday of federal hacking charges after prosecutors said he conspired with hacker group Anonymous to deface the Los Angeles Times website.
Matthew Keys, 28, who formerly worked for a television station under the Times' parent Tribune Company, was found guilty of conspiracy to cause damage to a protected computer, transmission of malicious code, and attempted transmission of malicious code. The crimes carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in a federal prison, but federal prosecutors told Motherboard's Sarah Jeong they expected to seek less than five years.
Keys is scheduled to be sentenced in January. A lawyer for Keys tweeted that he will appeal the conviction.
Prosecutors had said that in December 2010, Keys identified himself as a former Tribune Company employee to members of Anonymous and also provided them with his log-in credentials. Keys encouraged them to disrupt the website, officials said, and the headline of one news story was subsequently changed.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said in a statement.
Wagner added that Keys' "personal vendetta" against his former employer may not have caused permanent damage, but the company went on to spend thousands of dollars to improve its security.
After Keys was indicted in March 2013, Reuters fired him from their social media team. Since then, he has continued to work in journalism. Earlier this year, he became managing editor at Grasswire, a news site curated by its readers.
Grasswire founder Austen Allred said Keys would remain employed with the company as his case went through the appeals process.
"It is absolutely absurd that someone face 25 years in prison for a change to a news article that was live for less than an hour," he told BuzzFeed News.
After the reading of the verdict, Keys told Jeong that he saw the case as a message to journalists who cover groups the government opposes.
A federal prosecutor disputed there was a political motivation to the case and suggested to Jeong that the government would seek a sentence below the statutory maximum.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Tribune Media said the company was pleased the justice system worked.
"We will let today's verdict speak for itself."
Keys also tweeted his reaction to the verdict.
He later added the potential prison sentences were absurd. He encouraged his followers to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.