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Feds Crack Down on Corporate Hacking with Keys Conviction

October 08, 2015

​When former Reuters social media editor Matthew Keys was convicted of three felony charges for helping the hacking collective Anonymous gain access to the Los Angeles Times’ website, it attracted concerns and comments from a number of former federal prosecutors. Fenwick & West privacy team co-chair Tyler Newby spoke with Law360 about the case.

Some observers felt prosecutors may have pursued Keys in an overly-aggressive manner, Law360 reported. Keys’ attorneys noted that no actual damage was done to the newspaper’s computers, and its websites were only minimally disrupted.

“It appears that the principal complaints are that Keys’ conduct wasn’t all that serious, and the harm caused is out of sync with the potential prison sentence he faces under the federal sentencing guidelines,” Newby said. “Many federal criminal laws, such as the mail and wire fraud statutes, are very broad and rely on federal prosecutors to exercise discretion in deciding which fact patterns merit bringing the full weight of the federal government to bear.”

The three charges that Keys was convicted of included conspiracy to make unauthorized changes to the Tribune Co.’s websites, causing damage to its computer systems and transmitting malicious code. Combined, Keys could face 25 years in prison and fines totaling as much as $750,000.

Companies, as well as the government, have become increasingly concerned about the possible consequences of computer hacking and the damages to data that can result. Because of that, prosecutors have become more aggressive in pursuing hackers and others who illegally gain access to websites and computer files, regardless of whether serious damage accrues from those attacks.

Keys, 28, had once worked for the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times. He was convicted by a federal jury in California in October. He will be sentenced in January.

The full article is available through Law360 (subscription required).​