Journalist Matthew Keys faces 2 YEARS for a 40 minute web defacement

In a landmark case for online law, US journalist Matthew Keys has been convicted of two years in prison for aiding Anonymous.

The former Reuters journalist originally faced a sentence of up to 25 years for three counts of hacking after being found guilty last October, for providing website login credentials for the Los Angeles Times to the hacktivist group.

While working at KTXL Fox, a California news site owned by media group Tibune, Keys had posession of the login details for Tribune's joint content management system including the Los Angeles Times website.

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Prosecutors alleged that after being fired from the company, the disgruntled 29 year old handed the login details to Anonymous over a chat room, using a virtual private network like ToR to cover his tracks.

Evidence pointed to Keys after he had written about gaining access to the 'elite hacker' chat room and communicating with hackers in a Reuters blog post in 2014.

Anonymous then hacked the headline on a story about tax cuts to read: 'Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337.' The page was defaced for about 40 minutes, meaning Keys faces six months in prison for every ten minutes the LA Times page remained defaced.

The Associated Press reported: 'Court documents say the hacking cost Tribune nearly $18,000 for the 333 hours that employees spent responding to the hack. But Keys’ attorneys said restoring the original headline, byline and first paragraphs of the story took less than an hour and the cost falls below the $5,000 loss required to make the violation a felony.'

His attorneys called the hacking a relatively harmless prank.

'He shouldn’t be doing a day in jail,' Keys' attorney, Jay Leiderman told the LA Times in October. 'With love and respect, [The Times'] story was defaced for 40 minutes when someone found it and fixed it in three minutes. What do you want, a year a minute?'

Keys took to social media this week to say that he was pushing forward with an appeal, saying: 'We’re not only going to work to reverse the conviction but try to change this absurd computer law, as best we can.'

And in an interesting aside, he added today: 'By the way: Despite the absurd allegations, the conviction, the sentence – I still have unfettered access to computers and the Internet.'

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The heavy-handed conviction is a result of an anti-hacking statute in the US known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which online civil liberties watchdog the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has criticised as 'draconian' and 'prosecutional discretion run amok' over a case that 'essentially amounts to vandalism'.

In a blog post from December, the EFF wrote that they hoped the sentencing judge will pay attention to the actual damage committed against the LA Times – a vandalised website for 40 minutes, and not be swayed by the digital context.

'This case underscores how computer crimes are prosecuted much more harshly than analogous crimes in the physical world,' said EFF coordinator Amul Kalia.

'The government certainly seems to be making an example out of Matthew Keys – as it did in the tragic case of Aaron Swartz. Meanwhile, the government hasn’t even gone after the individual who actually made the changes to the LA Times article.'

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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