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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Big-Time Hacker Faces Years in Prison

(CN) - A 28-year-old man pleaded guilty to hacking into corporate computer networks to steal millions of credit and debit card numbers. Albert Gonzalez hacked into Heartland Payment Systems, a New Jersey-based credit-card processor; the 7-Eleven store chain; and Hannaford Brothers, a New England-based supermarket chain, among others.

Gonzalez, of Miami, pleaded guilty to conspiring to hack into computer networks and steal data from millions of credit and debit cards. The Department of Justice called it one of the largest data breaches ever investigated and prosecuted in the United States.

Gonzalez, aka "segvec," "soupnazi" and "j4guar17," pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to payment card networks. The plea was entered in Boston before U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

According to the plea agreement, Gonzalez leased or otherwise controlled several servers, or "hacking platforms," and gave other hackers access to the servers, knowing they would use them to store malicious software, or "malware," and launch attacks against corporate victims.

Malware used against several of the corporate victims also was found on a server controlled by Gonzalez. Gonzalez tested malware by running multiple anti-virus programs to see if the programs detected the malware. According to the plea agreement, Gonzalez and his co-conspirators knew the malware could steal tens of millions of credit and debit card numbers, affecting more than 250 financial institutions. Gonzalez was criminally indicted in New Jersey in August 2009.

Under the plea agreement, Gonzalez will not seek a prison term of less than 17 years and the government will not seek more than 25 years.

Gonzalez pleaded guilty in September 2009 in Boston to 19 counts of conspiracy, computer fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. He also hacked into TJX Companies, BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble and Sports Authority. Gonzalez also pleaded guilty in September 2009 in Boston to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud relating to hacks into the Dave & Buster's restaurant chain, which were the subject of a May 2008 indictment in the Eastern District of New York.

As part of the plea agreement, the New Jersey case was transferred to the District of Massachusetts for plea and sentencing. Gonzalez's sentence in the New Jersey case will run concurrently with the sentence imposed in Boston and New York.

Gonzalez remains in federal custody. Sentencing in the Boston and New York cases is scheduled for March 18 in Boston. Sentencing in the New Jersey case is scheduled for March 19.

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