Three men indicted in largest U.S. data breach

Florida man accused of stealing credit card data from TJX is among those named in breach involving Heartland, 7-Eleven, Hannaford Brothers, and others.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read

Two Russians and a Florida man were charged on Monday with hacking into Heartland Payment Systems, 7-Eleven, and the Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain, and stealing data related to more than 130 million credit and debit cards.

The indictment names 28-year-old Albert Gonzalez of Miami, who already has been charged with stealing data related to 40 million credit cards from eight major retailers, including TJ Maxx, and two unnamed co-conspirators based in Russia.

The breach involving Heartland and the others is believed to be the largest hacking and identity theft case ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition to Heartland, 7-Eleven, and Hannaford Brothers, it involves two unnamed corporate victims, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office.

The three men were indicted on charges of conspiring to hack into computer networks and stealing data as far back as October 2006. Gonzalez, whose aliases include "segvec" and "soupnazi," and the others allegedly found victims on a list of Fortune 500 companies and visited retail locations to see what type of checkout systems they used.

They used an SQL injection attack to steal the data and used computers in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Latvia, Ukraine, and the Netherlands for storing malware and stolen data and launching attacks, according to the indictment. In an SQL injection attack, a small malicious script is inserted, exploiting a vulnerability in the database layer of an application that feeds information to the Web site.

They also allegedly installed backdoors and sniffers to intercept data in real time as it was processed by the victims and tried to hide their actions by accessing the victim networks through proxy computers, modifying their software so as to evade detection by antivirus programs and programming it to delete traces of the malware from victim networks, according to the indictment.

The men also tried to sell the stolen data to others, the indictment alleges. They are charged with conspiracy to gain unauthorized access to computers, commit fraud in connection with computers and damage computers, as well as conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They face up to 35 years in prison as well as a fine of $1.25 million.

Gonzalez, who is in federal custody, was charged in May 2008 in New York with hacking the computer network of Dave & Buster's restaurant chain and was named in an indictment in Massachusetts in August 2008 related to the TJX breach. Other alleged victims in those cases include BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21, and DSW. He faces trial on the New York charges next month.

Heartland reported the breach on presidential Inauguration Day in January and said that although it occurred last year, it found evidence of the intrusion just the week prior.

Formerly a federal government informant, Gonzalez also was arrested in New Jersey in 2003 on charges related to ATM and debit card fraud.