TechWeb

Anonymous Investigators Probe Reuters Reporter, Sabu

Mar 18, 2013 (08:03 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=240151024


Anonymous: 10 Things We Have Learned In 2013
Anonymous: 10 Things We Have Learned In 2013
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Reuters employee Matthew Keys, 26, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury for allegedly enabling the hacktivist group Anonymous to hack into the computers of Tribune Co.

According to the indictment, Keys, formerly a Web producer for Tribune Co.-owned television station KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento, Calif., shared a username and password with members of Anonymous, which enabled them to log onto Tribune's content management system (CMS) and change a Los Angeles Times news story.

But Keys' attorney, Jay Leiderman, told The Huffington Post that his client was working undercover while reporting a story. "This is sort of an undercover-type, investigative journalism thing, and I know undercover -- I'm using that term loosely," he said. "This is a guy who went where he needed to go to get the story. He went into the sort of dark corners of the Internet. He's being prosecuted for that, for going to get the story."

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Prosecutors, however, alleged that Keys' actions went beyond reporting, and charged him with three criminal accounts: conspiracy to damage a protected computer, transmission of malicious code -- or information that could be used for such a purpose -- and attempted transmission of malicious code. The three charges together carry a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment and $750,000 in fines.

According to chat logs cited in the indictment, someone using the nickname "AESCracked" in December 2010 told participants in the #InternetFeds IRC channel -- Internet Feds was a precursor to LulzSec and Anonymous, and members of those groups as well as AntiSec and Gnosis frequented the channel -- who had expressed a desire to access a Fox website, that he was a former Tribune employee. He later shared a working username ("anon1234") and password with members of the IRC channel, then told them to "go [expletive] some [expletive] up."

When told that the Los Angeles Times had been defaced, AESCracked replied, "nice," according to a Department of Justice statement.

After Tribune canceled the anon1234 account -- less than a half hour after it was used -- a user nicknamed "sharpie" asked AESCracked via the #InternetFeds IRC channel for more usernames and passwords, to continue the defacement campaign. "Let me see if I can find some other users/pass I created while there," said AESCracked. "It takes a while to grant one username permission to every site. I'm doing that now," he said, apparently referring to Tribune using the same content management system for both the Los Angeles Times and Fox 40.

The indictment alleged that Keys was AESCracked. Sharpie, meanwhile, turned out to be one of the nicknames used by Hector Xavier Monsegur, a.k.a. LulzSec leader Sabu, who was arrested by the FBI in June 2012 and turned informer.




Keys, who's the deputy social media editor for Reuters, said he first learned of the federal indictment against him Thursday. "I am fine. I found out the same way most of you did: From Twitter. Tonight I'm going to take a break. Tomorrow, business as usual," he said via Twitter.

Reportedly, Keys has since been suspended, and Reuters released a statement saying that "any legal violations, or failures to comply with the company's own strict set of principles and standards, can result in disciplinary action." A Reuters spokesman has also noted that the indictment cited behavior that allegedly occurred in December 2010, when Keys was working as a freelancer, and that Keys only joined Reuters in 2012. Finally, a Reuters reporter said Friday that Keys' workstation had already been dismantled and his security pass revoked.

Keys previously detailed some of his chat-room interactions with Anonymous members, including Sabu, in a Reuters blog posted on March 7, 2012. He said he'd begun researching the hacktivists after they launched Operation Payback attacks against PayPal and other websites that they deemed to be interrupting the flow of donations to WikiLeaks.

In the post, he said that following a leak from the #InternetFeds IRC channel -- a screenshot of government usernames and passwords posted to the channel was released to PBS NewsHour -- Sabu and Chronom started a new IRC channel in January 2011, then put all potential participants to the test, "usually involving committing some sort of computer crime," to prove that they weren't a law enforcement agent.

Keys apparently refused to participate, and told Sharpie that he'd been collecting screenshots of #InternetFeds discussions -- so that the text couldn't be refuted -- and had leaked some of that information to PBS NewsHour. Sabu later took to Twitter to denounce AESCracked, saying that he'd been behind the Los Angeles Times defacement. Interestingly, the FBI's investigation into Keys began in 2010, after a Fox 40 producer received an anonymous email saying that the station's email contact list was in the emailer's possession, according to an FBI affidavit, reported The Huffington Post. The producer, who had fired Keys two months prior, identified Keys as a potential suspect for that leak.

The producer also told the FBI that Keys, who had been in charge of the station's Facebook and Twitter accounts, had refused to hand over control of the social media accounts after being fired, and changed the passwords and deleted about 6,000 followers from the station's Twitter account, until the producer regained control of the accounts about four days later. The producer also said Keys said that he "had access to future Anonymous operations including operations against PayPal, Amazon, the Los Angeles Times, Fox News and others," according to the affidavit.

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