Hacker jailed for 40 years for biggest credit card heists so far

26 Mar 2010

A cyber thief described as a “super hacker” has been given the harshest term ever imposed for cyber crimes – 40 years – for breaking into the systems of major retailers in the US and around the world, including Ireland.

The defendant, Albert Gonzalez, was known in hacker circles as a “soupnazi”, a major operator who would be the fulcrum of cyber gang activity, and would shuttle between Miami and New York to liaise with his cronies.

The 28-year-old admitted last year to hacking the networks of TJX Cos, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dave & Buster’s and others, bragging he could cost stores, insurers and banks nearly US$200m.

Accused blames internet addiction

Gonzalez says his actions weren’t out of greed but out of pure internet addiction.

In recent years, major hacking rings that have cost businesses entire fortunes have been exposed. In 2007, 11 people from five countries were charged with stealing more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers from retailer TK Maxx, having obtained the credit and debit card numbers by “wardriving” and hacking into the wireless computer networks of major retailers – including TJX companies, BJ’s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21 and DSW.

Gonzalez and a number of foreign defendants would drive by retailers along a motorway in Miami with a laptop and tap into stores with vulnerable wireless networks. They then used sniffer programs that would pick off credit and debit card numbers as they moved through the retailers’ computers. They would then sell the numbers to cyber criminals overseas.

During his crime spree, Gonzalez amassed a small fortune of US$2.8m which he used to buy an apartment in Miami, a car, Rolex watches and a Tiffany ring for his girlfriend.

Gonzalez’ two 20-year sentences are expected to run concurrently.

Gonzalez is scheduled to be sentenced again today by a different judge in a case involving the theft of card numbers from the Scarsborough retail chain, 7-Eleven and Heartland.

By John Kennedy

Photo: During his cyber crime spree, Albert Gonzalez amassed US$2.8m

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years