Computer Hacker Gonzalez Gets 15-25 Years

The computer hacker accused of masterminding one of the largest cases of identity theft in U.S. history, including those involving 7-Eleven, agreed Friday to plead guilty and serve up to 25 years in federal prison, CBS News reported.

Albert Gonzalez of Miami was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges in federal courts in New York and Boston. He agreed to plead guilty to 19 counts and combine the two cases in federal court in Massachusetts.

Additional charges against Gonzalez are still pending in New Jersey, but they are not currently part of the plea deal. On Aug. 17, 2008, the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey brought additional charges against him for allegedly targeting 7-Eleven Inc. customers and supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers Co. Inc, as well as Heartland Payment Systems, a card payment processor in New Jersey.

Friday’s plea deal on the New York and Massachusetts charges, which involve swiping the credit and debit card numbers of more than 170 million accounts, and acting as the ringleader of a group that targeted large companies like T.J. Maxx and Barnes and Noble, among others, ensures that he will be in incarcerated for 15-25 years.

If convicted of all the charges in the plea agreement, and if he had been sentenced to the maximum, he would have been incarcerated for several hundred years, CBS News reported.

Gonzalez’s computers, condo, cash, BMW, $1.1 million buried in his parents backyard, the Rolex watches he gave friends and family as gifts and his girlfriend’s Tiffany ring all will be ceased. He also will be restricted in his computer and Internet use during the five supervised years following his prison sentence.

According to the indictments in New York and Massachusetts, Gonzalez and two foreign co-defendants used hacking techniques that involved “wardriving,” or cruising through different areas with a laptop computer and looking for retailers’ accessible wireless Internet signals. When they found a vulnerable network, they installed “sniffer programs” to gather credit and debit card numbers as they moved through a retailer’s processing computers, and then attempted to sell the information overseas, CBS News reported.

Gonzalez was in the process of negotiating a plea agreement on those charges when, the New Jersey indictment for his alleged crimes against 7-Eleven hit. In that indictment, authorities said Gonzalez and his group used a different technique to hack into corporate networks and secretly place “malware,” or malicious software, that would give them backdoor access to the networks to later go back and steal the data.

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