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Ex-informant charged with even bigger data theft this time

Albert Gonzalez, who helped the Secret Service hunt hackers, is charged with the nation's largest breach -- 130 million credit and debit card accounts. He holds the old record too, prosecutors allege.

August 18, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors Monday charged a former government informant with the nation's largest theft of credit and debit card data, accusing him of swiping 130 million accounts on top of 40 million he stole previously.

Albert Gonzalez, 28, of Miami broke his own record for identity theft by hacking into retail networks, according to prosecutors, though they say his illicit exploits ended when he went to jail on charges stemming from an earlier case.

Gonzalez helped the Secret Service hunt hackers, authorities say. The agency later learned that he had also been working with criminals and feeding them information on investigations, authorities said.

Gonzalez, who is already in jail awaiting trial in a hacking case, was indicted Monday in New Jersey and charged with conspiring with two unidentified Russians to steal the private information. Prosecutors say the goal was to sell the data to others.

How much of the data was sold and then used to make fraudulent purchases is unclear.

Prosecutors say Gonzalez, who is known online as "soupnazi," targeted customers of 7-Eleven Inc. and supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers Co. Inc. He also targeted Heartland Payment Systems, a New Jersey-based card payment processor.

According to the indictment, Gonzalez and his two co-conspirators would hack into corporate networks to place "malware," malicious software that would allow them backdoor access later to steal data.

The Justice Department said the new case represented the largest breach of credit and debit card data ever charged in the United States.

Gonzalez allegedly devised a sophisticated attack to penetrate the computer networks and send stolen data to computer servers in California, Illinois, Latvia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

Gonzalez faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the new charges. He is awaiting trial next month in New York for allegedly helping hack into the computer network of the national restaurant chain Dave and Buster's. He also faces charges involving the theft of 40 million credit cards of retailers, including T.J. Maxx, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority and OfficeMax.

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