The Justice Department has announced an indictment in what may be one of the largest, if not the largest, identity theft cases in the nation’s history. A Florida man and two unidentified Russian accomplices are under indictment, the agency said:
Albert Gonzales, 28, of Miami, Fla., was indicted [August 17] for conspiring to hack into computer networks supporting major American retail and financial organizations, and stealing data relating to more than 130 million credit and debit cards, announced Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Ralph J. Marra Jr. and U.S. Secret Service Assistant Director for Investigations Michael Merritt.
In a two-count indictment alleging conspiracy and conspiracy to engage in wire fraud, Gonzales, AKA “segvec,” “soupnazi” and “j4guar17,” is charged, along with two unnamed co-conspirators, with using a sophisticated hacking technique called an “SQL injection attack,” which seeks to exploit computer networks by finding a way around the network’s firewall to steal credit and debit card information. Among the corporate victims named in the indictment are Heartland Payment Systems, a New Jersey-based card payment processor; 7-Eleven Inc., a Texas-based nationwide convenience store chain; and Hannaford Brothers Co. Inc., a Maine-based supermarket chain.
The indictment, which details the largest alleged credit and debit card data breach ever charged in the United States, alleges that beginning in October 2006, Gonzales and his co-conspirators researched the credit and debit card systems used by their victims; devised a sophisticated attack to penetrate their networks and steal credit and debit card data; and then sent that data to computer servers they operated in California, Illinois, Latvia, the Netherlands and Ukraine. The indictment also alleges Gonzales and his co-conspirators also used sophisticated hacker techniques to cover their tracks and to avoid detection by anti-virus software used by their victims.
If convicted, Gonzales faces up to 20 years in prison on the wire fraud conspiracy charge and an additional five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, as well as a fine of $250,000 for each charge.
Gonzales is currently in federal custody. In May 2008, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York charged Gonzales for his alleged role in the hacking of a computer network run by a national restaurant chain. Trial on those charges is scheduled to begin in Long Island, N.Y., in September 2009.
In August of 2008, the Justice Department announced an additional series of indictments against Gonzales and others for a number of retail hacks affecting eight major retailers and involving the theft of data related to 40 million credit cards. Those charges were filed in the District of Massachusetts. Gonzales is scheduled for trial on those charges in 2010.
The charges announced today relate to a different pattern of hacking activity that targeted different corporate victims and involved different co-conspirators.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erez Lieberman and Seth Kosto for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and by Senior Trial Counsel Kimberly Kiefer Peretti of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. The case is being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service.
Several media reports, including the Bloomberg wire, and industry trade journal Computerworld, are reporting the details, which aren’t pretty. If, as speculated, 130 million Americans’ identities are threatened by this, the implications could be huge. However, the full extent of this attempt isn’t known yet; right now, it’s only speculated that this many people could have been affected.
A little less than one year ago, I wrote about the need to be vigilant in protecting one’s personal identity online (and, for that matter, off line). That advice still holds, and I may have more in an upcoming “On Computers” column.