Extraordinary look into how cybercrime works

By Anne Collier

This year’s Norton Cybercrime Report found that a whopping 65% of Internet users worldwide ­– nearly two-thirds of us – have been affected by cybercrime. Well, whether or not your family falls into that 65%, if you ever wonder what that cybercrime looks like, the New York Times Magazine took readers inside that world this week. It tells the story of Albert Gonzalez, mastermind of the “the biggest digital heist in American history,” involving the theft of tens of millions of bank cards. He went from being arrested by a New York City detective for “cashing out” at an ATM with stolen debit cards to becoming an informant for the Secret Service’s Electronic Crimes Task Force (“one of the most valuable” the government ever had) and betraying members of his inner circle. But while he was doing both of those things, he was – with the help of his own hacker crew – also gaining access to “roughly 180 million payment-card accounts from the customer databases of some of the most well-known corporations in America” (e.g., T.J. Maxx, Target, Barnes & Noble, and JCPenney). His story spans that of cybercrime’s “evolution” from hacking and data mining (large databases of, e.g., credit card numbers) to “war driving” (sitting in parking lots or near big-box stores and “burrowing through stores’ vulnerable wi-fi networks” with laptops and powerful antennas, grabbing debit card numbers) to doing “SQL injections” into retail Web sites (going through Web sites to get to the customer data in the SQL databases behind them). Read the story to find out how the feds figured out it was their own informant committing these crimes and arrested him for the second and hopefully last time. It’s a page-turner.

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