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In the case of one of the largest data breaches ever investigated and prosecuted in the United States, Albert Gonzalez pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to hack into the computer networks of several major American retailers and financial institutions, among them Hannaford Brothers Co., Inc., and to steal millions of credit and debit card numbers. The 28-year-old Miami resident, who used the names segvec, soupnazi and j4guar17 online, entered his plea in a Boston federal court before U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.
Other organizations Gonzalez admitted targeting in the plea included New Jersey-based card processor Heartland Payment Systems and 7-Eleven.
According to the plea agreement, Gonzalez leased or otherwise controlled several servers and allowed other hackers to store malicious software, or “malware,” on them to launch attacks against various organizations. Additionally, malware used against several of the targeted companies was found on a server Gonzalez controlled. Based on the terms of the plea agreement, Gonzalez won’t seek a prison term of less than 17 years and the government won’t seek a prison term of more than 25 years.
Gonzalez was indicted in New Jersey in August 2009 for the crimes, but the case was transferred to the District of Massachusetts for plea and sentencing. He pleaded guilty in September 2009 in Boston to 19 counts of conspiracy, computer fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft relating to hacks into such well-known U.S. retailers as TJX Cos., BJ’s Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble and Sports Authority. Gonzalez also pleaded guilty in September 2009 in Boston to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud relating to hacks into the Dave & Buster’s restaurant chain, which were the subject of a May 2008 indictment in the Eastern District of New York.
The sentence in the New Jersey case will run concurrently with the sentence imposed in the Boston and New York cases. Sentencing for the cases is scheduled for March. Gonzalez is currently in federal custody.
“[The] plea proves that although cybercriminals can threaten our nation’s financial sector, the Secret Service and its many partners around the world will pursue and prosecute them,” noted Mark Sullivan, director of the U.S. Secret Service, which participated in the investigation against Gonzalez. “Time and again, cooperation and advanced methodologies have allowed us to focus our resources in order to detect and prevent these types of crimes, wherever they originate.”