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Uber-hacker Max Vision misses the killswitch

Cohorts unravel secret life

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Having already done time in prison, Max Butler - aka Max Vision - went to great extremes to cloak his new and allegedly-illegal activities from prying eyes. But court documents filed in a case charging him with five new counts of fraud suggest that despite the care he took, much of his undoing came at his own hands - and the hands of associates he trusted the most.

The hacker, who in 2001 pleaded guilty to unleashing a worm that accessed computers at a US Air Force base, employed a "killswitch" on his PC that allowed him to destroy incriminating data at a moment's notice, according to an affidavit.

"If Butler is within reach of his computer, he needs only 'two keystrokes' to destroy the evidence on the computer," Christopher Aragon, an associate of Butler's who was arrested in May for identity theft, told investigators.

The San Francisco native also kept two residences. One was allegedly reserved for conducting illegal hacking, such as breaking into data processing centers and financial institutions. It was rented under a false name - in at least one case "Daniel Chance" - and paid in advance by a money order signed by a person who worked for Butler.

And he maintained at least four online identities, including Iceman, Aphex, Digits and Darkest. While he allegedly used some of the handles to openly engage in the trafficking of stolen credit cards, he worked hard to keep a clean reputation for Iceman. He used the ID in public forums on Cardersmarket, a website he allegedly operated that offered information and discussions concerning various forms on online fraud.

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For a while, the secrecy worked well. Butler, according to court documents, would largely work in obscurity as he used large antennas to pull sensitive data transmitted over Wi-Fi networks. By limiting what associates and outsiders knew about him and his activities, he made it hard for authorities to build a case against him.

Then, through a combination of bad luck and poor judgment, Butler's enterprise began to unravel. In May, Aragon was arrested in Newport Beach, California for allegedly using counterfeit American Express gift cards to buy about $13,000 worth of designer purses in a single day. He is awaiting trial.

This was a problem for Butler, according to court documents, because Aragon was one of the people who bought credit card numbers Butler obtained.

"Aragon's group would manufacture or re-encode credit cards with the stolen credit card information and have his 'crew' use those cards to make in-store purchases," the 28-page affidavit alleges. Much of the merchandise was then sold on eBay by an user who went under the name "Stylish_shelly."

Following the arrest, Butler went so far as to flee San Francisco for Vancouver and discard a cell phone that linked him to Aragon. But according to the affidavit, Butler made some crucial mistakes. For one, he used a prepaid credit card that had been purchased by Aragon during his stint in Vancouver. And a few days later, he used it to buy a new phone.

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

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