(CN) – A former government informant who used the motto “Operation Get Rich or Die Tryin'” was accused Monday of stealing information from 130 million credit and debit cards from customers of 7-Eleven and other retail stores in the largest known identity theft in U.S. history.
A New Jersey grand jury indicted 28-year-old Albert Gonzalez of Miami and two unnamed Russian accomplices on charges that they stole the account information between 2006 and 2008, and tried to resell it online.
Gonzalez and his co-conspirators allegedly hacked into the computer systems of five different companies, including 7-Eleven, Hannaford Brothers supermarkets and Heartland Payment Systems, a credit card processing company.
The three have been charged with computer fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. An additional co-conspirator is mentioned in the indictment, but is not named as a defendant.
According to the indictment, Gonzalez and his fellow hackers used SQL, a programming language used to manage data, to exploit vulnerable security systems and steal credit card information from the companies’ clients. They then used malware and proxy servers to evade anti-virus software and erase evidence of their thefts, the indictment states.
The hacker ring operated on networks ranging from California to the Netherlands and the Ukraine, communicating with each other via instant messaging, federal prosecutors say.
Gonzalez has a long history of credit card and identity theft, and is currently in a New Jersey jail awaiting trial for his alleged role in stealing more than 40 million credit card accounts from Dave & Busters in 2008.
Gonzalez previously served as an informant for the Secret Service following the 2004 conviction of 26 lead hackers involved in similar charges. When Gonzalez relocated to Florida, prosecutors say he continued his pattern of computer fraud, selling federal investigation information to more hackers.
“This guy worked very, very hard at something he was very good at,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Erez Liebermann. “He found the right people to successfully accomplish his objective.”
Gonzalez is a high-school graduate who taught himself computer programming and was once the purported leader of an online hacking ring known as Shadowcrew. Documents filed in a Massachusetts federal court say Gonzalez once threw himself a $75,000 birthday party and complained of having to hand-count $340,000 when his money counter broke.
If convicted, Gonzalez faces up to 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
The Treasury Department reports that half of the 55,000 cases of wire fraud since 1998 have occurred in the past two years. Tom Kellermann, vice president with Core Security Technologies, sees this as a wake-up call for the financial sector.
“For too long a time they have not paid enough respect to the sophistication and organization of the underground economy,” he told the Wall Street Journal.