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TJX hacker mulls Asperger's defense

Move over, McKinnon

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The international hacker who has admitted to stealing more than 130 million payment card numbers has mounted a new defense claim that he might suffer from Asperger's syndrome, a court filing indicates.

On Tuesday, attorneys for Albert Gonzalez filed a report from a forensic psychologist that questioned the criminal hacker's "capacity to knowingly evaluate the wrongfulness of his actions and consciously behave lawfully and avoid crime," according to federal prosecutors. The report went on to state that his "behavior was consistent with description of the Asperger's disorder."

Gonzalez becomes the latest hacker under prosecution to raise the Asperger's defense in arguing for leniency. Most notably, NASA hacker Gary McKinnon has cited the Autism-related disorder in fighting extradition to the US to face computer trespass charges. UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson has repeatedly rejected claims raised by McKinnon's attorneys and supporters and has indicated he will not stop the forced transfer.

In August, convicted hacker Viachelav Berkovich received two years less than the minimum called for under federal sentencing guidelines after the judge in the case took the disability into consideration as a mitigating factor.

The judge hearing Gonzalez's case has canceled a December 21 sentencing hearing, according to an entry made Wednesday on a federal court website. It's unclear when a new hearing will be held.

People with Asperger's are said to display behavior that's repetitive and restricted, and they also show social awkwardness and an inability to empathize. The link between Asperger's and crime, however, has been disputed by some researchers.

Word of Gonzalez's new defense was made in a government motion filed Tuesday to delay sentencing and was reported earlier by Wired.com.

Wired.com went on to report that Gonzalez has identified two Russian accomplices who helped him hack into numerous companies. The hackers, identified for the first time by the handles "Grigg" and "Annex," have breached at least four card processing companies and a variety of foreign banks, according to a sentencing memo filed by defense attorneys.

The information was intended to remain confidential, but because of a redaction error, it was available by electronically cutting the document contents and pasting them into a new file.

Gonzalez has provided the government with "extensive information" to prosecutors, including the names of people he was close to who are suspected of breaking the law. According to Wired.com, he also drew prosecutors a map that helped them find more than $1.1m that had been buried in is parents' backyard. Much more is available here. ®

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