Feds snag another 'hacker' while ignoring actual criminals

DOJ indicts Matthew Keys for aiding Anonymous, yet real cyber criminals roam free. What's wrong with this picture?

Stop me if you've heard this one: Federal prosecutors go medieval on a "hacker" for committing an extremely minor offense while letting megacorps and actual cyber terrorists pretty much do as they please.

Matthew Keys, a now-former employee of Reuters, has been charged with helping Anonymous hack the L.A. Times website in December 2010 by providing members of the hacktivista group the log-in credentials to his former employer, the Tribune Company, and encouraging them to "go f*** some s*** up."

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Keys had been Web editor at the Tribune Company, which publishes the Times, so he had the keys to the site's CMS. Anonymous proceeded to log in and change the headline for one Times story. The headline was hacked to read "Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337" and bylined "CHIPPYS NO 1 FAN."

Total time the site was under Anonymous's control: less than 30 minutes

Keys' potential jail time: 25 years and a $750,000 fine.

Can it get more absurd than that? I don't think so. I certainly hope not.

Apparently, Keys intended to report on his insider experience with Anonymous as a journalist. He wrote a story about hackers for Reuters last March that used some of his IRC conversations with them. Granted, it was stupid of him to provide the Tribune log-in info to the Anons; it's a little like giving a burglar the key to your boss's front door so that you can report on how the cops investigate crime. If he'd received any kind of formal journalism training (besides an associates' degree from a college you probably haven't heard of), he might have realized that.

Clearly the Aaron Swartz suicide did nothing to dampen the DOJ's taste for finding an easy example to show how tough it's being on cyber crime, while simultaneously attempting to hide how pathetic it is at prosecuting and preventing actual crime. In other words, we can't actually catch Russian scammers or Chinese spies or Iranian saboteurs, so we're going to divert attention from that by throwing the book at some shaggy-haired Internet stooge for reckless Internet Relay Chatting.

It's hard to write about this topic without sounding like a nutloaf who spends too much time listening to the Alex Jones radio show. But if you pull back a bit and look at the bigger picture of what's happening here, it's hard not to be concerned.

In a speech earlier this month, President Obama declared that "the cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation." In Senate hearings this week, FBI director Robert Mueller said cyber security ranks "right up there" with terrorism.

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