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August 19, 2009

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American hacker steals details from 130 million card accounts

A FORMER United States government informant known online as "soupnazi" stole information from 130 million credit and debit card accounts in what federal prosecutors are calling the largest case of identity theft yet.

Prosecutors said on Monday that Albert Gonzalez, 28, of Miami broke his own record for identity theft, though his exploits ended when he went to jail on charges stemming from an earlier case involving 40 million accounts.

Gonzalez is a former informant for the US Secret Service who helped the agency hunt hackers, authorities said. The agency later found out that he had also been working with criminals and feeding them information on ongoing investigations, even warning off at least one individual, according to authorities.

Gonzalez, who is already in jail awaiting trial in a hacking case, was indicted on Monday in New Jersey and charged with conspiring with two other unnamed suspects to steal the private information. Prosecutors say the goal was to sell the stolen data to others.

How much of the data was sold and then used to make fraudulent charges is unclear. Investigators in such cases say it is usually impossible to quantify the impact of such thefts on account holders.

Prosecutors say Gonzalez targeted customers of convenience store giant 7-Eleven Inc and supermarket chain Hannaford Brothers Co Inc. He also targeted Heartland Payment Systems, a New Jersey card payment processor.

According to the indictment, Gonzalez and his two Russian coconspirators would hack into corporate computer networks and secretly place "malware," or malicious software, that would allow them backdoor access to the networks later to steal data.

Gonzalez faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the new charges. His lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment.

Gonzalez is awaiting trial next month in New York for allegedly helping hack the computer network of the national restaurant chain Dave and Buster's.

The Justice Department said the new case represents the largest alleged credit and debit card data breach ever charged in the US, based on a scheme that began in October 2006.


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