Albert Gonzalez – The Hacker

Albert González (born in 1981) is an American hacker and computer criminal suspected of organising the theft of credit cards and subsequent selling of over 170 million card and ATM numbers between 2005 and 2007: the world’s biggest scam of its kind.

Born to Cuban parents in 1981, Gonzalez attended South Miami High School in Miami, Florida. He was very young and was already installing computers for other families in his Miami neighborhood.

At age 14, he managed to hack into NASA, which resulted in an FBI visit to his high school, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he set out to do years later. His natural talent for hacking eventually led him to use his hacking skills for money.

Albert began to disregard his studies as he progressed through high school, and his grades began to suffer as a result of his desire to “live” in the world of late-night chat rooms. His initial cyber name was “Soupnazi,” after sitcom Seinfeld’s restaurateur. His passion for computers blossomed in high school, where he led a group of computer nerds who sought solace in their expert understanding of computers.

He graduated from high school in 1999 and a few months later he was visiting one of his online friends named Stephen Watts. The two spent time together while sharing the same passions for computer programming and hacking. Stephen later became one of his accomplices.

During his first year, Albert taught himself how to hack Internet service providers for free broadband by reading software manuals. However, he soon realised that he could do more, and he began to assume the credentials of managers and executives, as well as learning more about the systems’ design.

In his first semester at Miami College, Albert dropped out. He became one of the directors of ShadowCrew, a forum where cybercriminals exchanged services ranging from the selling of credit card data and social security cards to cybercrime, in 2002, while he was unemployed and in need of money.

Albert was arrested in New York in 2003 when a detective from the New York Police Department saw him withdrawing cash from multiple credit cards.

González agreed to assist the authorities escape prosecution after a few interviews and was recruited as an informant for Operation Firewall, a federal cybercrime task team.

His government employment simply fuelled his illegal conduct, and his usefulness to the military, in his opinion, enhanced the specialisation of his abilities.

He assisted in the arrest of hundreds of users of the ShadowCrew site in October 2004 while gathering information on how police officers functioned. For his own protection, he was advised to return to his homeland of Miami.

Albert became a paid informant for the Miami Secret Service bureau in early 2006 after assisting with another case.

He lived a lavish lifestyle, buying new vehicles, condominiums, and frequently staying in luxurious hotel rooms in Miami. During the day, he worked for the service and then went home to operate his illegal “enterprise” of selling stolen credit card information.

Albert got bored of working for the services in mid-2007, and when he failed to appear on time, the agents began discussing about letting him go, which they eventually did.

He was likewise fed up with wardriving and was looking for a fresh challenge. The new problem was SQL Injection, a promising technology that would eventually be exploited to compromise business data.
Gonzalez and his crew of hackers and other affiliates gained access to roughly 180 million payment-card accounts from the customer databases of some of America’s most well-known corporations, including OfficeMax, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dave & Buster’s restaurants, and the T. J. Maxx and Marshalls clothing chains, over the course of several years, much of which he worked for the government. Target, Barnes & Noble, JCPenney, Sports Authority, Boston Market, and 7-Eleven all had their bank-machine networks compromised. “The sheer amount of the human suffering inflicted by Gonzalez and his organisation is unprecedented,” said the main prosecutor in Gonzalez’s case.

In May of 2008, federal agents captured Albert and Stephen in the posh hotel where they were staying in Miami. The agents discovered a pistol, two laptop computers, and $25,000 in cash. He then admitted to burying a barrel holding $1 million in cash in his parents’ lawn.

After Albert’s Ukrainian card-hawker, Maksym Yastremskiy, was detained in July 2007, the agents were tipped off. They discovered millions of stolen card numbers, hacking tools, and logs of encrypted communications with Albert on Maksym’s hard drives after analysing his laptop. They were able to link Maksym to Albert after decrypting his conversation logs.
When the authorities arrested Albert, they examined his computers and were shocked by the magnitude of the operation their “trusted” informant was doing.

Stephen Watts admitted to developing the code that proved to be the key to Albert’s operation, but he maintains that he had no knowledge that it was being used for criminal purposes and that he did not profit from the crimes. Judge sentenced Stephen to two years in jail and ordered him to pay a portion of the 180 million dollar damages.

Albert expressed regret for his crimes, admitting that “he never considered the impact of his acts on the millions of individuals impacted,” and that he was “truly sorry” for his conduct, which had so many ramifications.

As soon as Albert discovered Patrick had turned state’s witness, he pled guilty and cooperated extensively with the police.

He avoided life in jail as a result of his collaboration, and in 2010 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, the world’s longest term for a computer offence.

He is anticipated to be freed from jail in 2025, after accounting for the time servers and good conduct.