The Story Behind The Hackers Behind The Largest Credit Card Number Heist

from the soon-to-be-a-movie? dept

A few years ago, the story broke about how TJX, the corporate parent of a series of retail stores, including TJ Maxx and Marshalls, had suffered a huge data breach, after some hackers had accessed its computer network via an insecure wireless connection at one of the stores. A year and a half later, we wrote about the arrests of some of those involved. The following year, we wrote about another hack, at Heartland Payment Systems, that had the potential to surpass the TJX hack as "the largest ever" in terms of the number of records accessed. It later came to light that both hacks were actually done by the same guys, supposedly led by Albert Gonzalez, a hacker who was actually on the government payroll at the time (after turning informant upon being caught a few years earlier standing in front of an ATM with a handful of fake ATM cards).

Back in March, Gonzalez received a twenty year sentence for the crime -- the longest sentence for "hacking"-related crime in the US. Others involved in the deal have been sentenced to shorter terms recently as well. Now, Danielle Alvarez, from the Miami New Times, points us to an article written by the paper that details the story behind the hacking, and the folks involved -- including the news (which I hadn't seen elsewhere in following this story -- Update: a few people have pointed to this story that Wired had last year, which I had not seen before) that one suspect end up killing himself after hearing of Gonzalez's arrest. It's a long story, but reads like something that will get turned into a movie at some point. Of course, the study plays down the security flaws at the companies, like TJX, which sent unencrypted credit card data over its network (a point Gonzalez's legal team tried to make in properly calculating how much "damage" he did). Still, it's a fascinating story about a group of young hackers, who wanted to "get rich or die trying," and how at least one of them succeeded at the latter.
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Filed Under: credit cards, hacking
Companies: heartland payment systems, tjx


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2010 @ 8:59am

    From the article:

    When Jonathan was 6, he began spending whole days on his dad's PC. By middle school, he had switched the family PC from Windows to Linux so he could have more control over the code.

    Jonathan's parents were thrilled at his gifts but also wary of his disobedience. Once, when the boy was 13, his mother took away a computer after catching him online in the middle of the night. "He ran away from home and called to say that he wouldn't come back until he got his computer back," Bobby remembers. "We asked the police to trace the call, and he was at this Borders bookstore that was, like, four blocks away."


    This is the place where society went off the rails and the train eventually crashed. Fathers used to wear belts and they weren't afraid to use them. Now, if you hit your kid, you're a child abuser and our kids know it.

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