Matthew Keys is a former social media editor, but now faces two years in prison after being found guilty for aiding members of Anonymous in hacking into the Tribune Company.
Keys was convicted last October and faced a possible maximum sentence of 25 years. His conviction upset many internet users, who condemned the courts for labeling the crime with which he was associated (which involved a minor defacement of an LA Times headline) was more fairly framed as a misdemeanor than a felony.
Keys worked for Reuters before he was indicted in 2013 for allegedly leaking a username and password to members of Anonymous three years earlier. Anonymous members were then able to gain access to a server belonging to his former employer, the Tribune Company. Keys had parted ways with Fox-40, a TV station owned by the Tribune Company, three years earlier. Allegedly Keys provided the hackers with the login information and an encouragement to “go f*** some s*** up.” The web site for the Los Angeles Times was then hacked and the headline of a story revised.
Keys admitted that he was involved in the hack during a recorded FBI interview in October of 2012, but has since insisted on his innocence. He published a brief note online today regarding his sentence: “I am innocent, and I did not ask for this fight. Nonetheless, I hope that our combined efforts help bring about positive change to rules and regulations that govern our online conduct.”
The government is likely making an example out of Keys, as the punishment doesn’t match the crime in most users’ eyes. In fact, for all the effort the government expended trying and convicting Keys, they still never charged whoever actually conducted the hack despite having a solid lead on a suspect called “Sharpie.”
According to FBI documents published on the Cryptome web site last July, UK authorities identified “Sharpie” as a 35-year-old man living in Scotland and apparently shared this lead with the FBI in 2013. One of the documents indicated that UK authorities would be pursuing their own charges against “Sharpie,” but these charges have yet to take place and likely will not. The US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles was asked directly about the lack of follow-up on Sharpie, to which the following response was given: “It’s kinda complicated.”
According to Key’s attorney Tor Ekeland, Key plans to appeal the conviction on the grounds that the government wrongfully and deceptively used irrelevant losses to assess damage to the victim.
Keys was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for causing unauthorized damage to a protected computer. According to Key’s defense, the government calculated losses to this computer that were unrelated to what Key actually did. Ekeland claims that this was done in an effort to inflate the victim’s losses and elevate Key’s computer crime from a mere misdemeanor to an outright felony, increasing Key’s sentence.
Regardless of the success of Key’s appeal, the government has likely accomplished what it hoped to; its shown Anonymous and the internet community that it will play dirty against hackers. Hopefully we’ll never get to the level of internet surveillance that currently plays out in China.