Matthew Keys, a former social media editor, was sentenced today to two years in prison for aiding members of Anonymous so they could hack the Tribune Company.

Keys was convicted last October and faced a possible maximum sentence of 25 years. His conviction drew rounds of condemnation on the web from people who believed that the crime associated with him—the minor defacement of an LA Times headline online—should have been charged as a misdemeanor not a felony.

Keys worked for the Reuters news agency when he was indicted in 2013 for allegedly providing a username and password to members of Anonymous three years earlier to gain access to a server belonging to his former employer, the Tribune Company. In 2010, Keys had parted ways with Fox-40, a TV station owned by the Tribune Company, and allegedly encouraged the hackers to use his credentials to “go fuck some shit up.” Someone subsequently used them to hack into the web site of the Los Angeles Times, also owned by the Tribune Company, and change the headline of a story. During a recorded FBI interview in October 2012, Keys admitted his involvement in the hack. But he has since insisted that he is innocent. In a brief note published online today he wrote, “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.”

Although the government expended a lot of effort to prosecute Keys, authorities never charged the person who conducted the hack, even though they had a solid lead on a suspect.

UK authorities identified the alleged hacker, who went by the name “Sharpie,” as a 35-year-old living in Scotland and shared this information with the FBI back in 2013, according to FBI documents that were published on the Cryptome web site last July. Although the FBI indicated in one of the documents that UK authorities planned to pursue their own charges against the man, this never happened either. When asked about the lack of follow-up, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles told WIRED, “It’s kinda complicated.”

Keys’ attorney, Tor Ekeland, told WIRED last year that he plans to appeal the conviction on the grounds that the government wrongfully and deceptively used irrelevant losses to assess damage to the victim.

Although Keys was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for causing unauthorized damage to a protected computer, prosecutors calculated losses for unrelated activities that caused no damage to a computer. Ekeland maintains that they did this to inflate the victim’s losses and elevate Keys’ computer crime from a mere misdemeanor to a felony and to increase his sentence. The CFAA requires a minimum of $5,000 in losses to qualify as a felony; and the amount of damages can have a profound effect on a defendant’s sentence.

Those unrelated activities were also not definitively tied to Keys. Authorities accused Keys of sending harassing anonymous emails to his former colleagues after he left his Fox-40 job, as well as sending spam to viewers of the station. Although investigators were never able to prove that Keys sent those emails, prosecutors included this in their assessment of damages—which they said amounted to more than $900,000 based on the hourly wage of employees who spent time responding to the breach of the LA Times site and the employees who had to deal with the emails, password resets, and complaints from station viewers who received spam.

“Typically people think damages has to do with loss of money, but damages have nothing to do with money under the CFAA,” Ekeland told WIRED previously. “Damage under the CFAA is [supposed to be about] simple impairment of the computer system. But there was no impairment [in this regard]—it was just a bunch of emails.”

During the sentencing hearing today the judge curbed the prosecution’s efforts to inflate damages by saying they should be restricted to what prosecutors presented in court, not what they listed in their pre-sentencing report. In the pre-sentencing report, they had indicated damages amounted to about $249,000, but at trial they had only presented findings for about $13,000 in damages.


Matthew Keys Sentenced to Two Years for Aiding Anonymous