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Hacker's record credit card theft fetches 20-year sentence

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Confessed TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for orchestrating one of the largest thefts of payment card numbers in history.

The sentence, by US District Court Judge Patti Saris, is the lengthiest to be imposed in a US hacking or identity prosecution. Miami-based Gonzalez was also fined $25,000 and still faces restitution charges that could be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Prosecutors told the judge Gonzalez should receive 25 years because he victimized millions of people and cost banks and their insurers as much as $200m. His attorney, Martin Weinberg, challenged that estimate and presented evidence his client suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.

Last year, Gonzalez pleaded guilty in three separate cases brought in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Thursday's sentence in Boston dealt only with the Massachusetts case. A hearing scheduled for Friday will deal with the other two prosecutions.

Prosecutors said Gonzalez led a gang of hackers who conducted war-driving campaigns that identified retailers with weak wireless networks. They then penetrated those networks and installed sniffer programs that siphoned millions of credit and debit card numbers as they were being zapped to payment processors.

The operation targeted a variety of retailers and restaurants including TJX Cos. and BJ's Wholesale Club, Office Max, Barnes & Noble and Dave & Busters restaurant chain. Thursday's sentence came the same day Dave & Busters agreed to implement a comprehensive security program to settle US Federal Trade Commission charges the restaurant left consumers vulnerable to credit card thieves.

During much of the operation, Gonzalez was an informant for the US Secret Service, for which he earned $75,000 a year. Wired.com has much more here. ®

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