WASHINGTON — Albert Gonzalez, the leader of a network of hackers behind many of the largest data breaches around the country, had most of his impact as a leader of the hackers and not in being a great hacker himself, according to a panel convened to discuss his case.
The panel, which consisted of the prosecutor who won his convictions, a journalist which interviewed him extensively and the Secret Service agent which tracked him, told attendees at Visa's Global Security Summit on Wednesday that Gonzalez has never claimed to a “premier hacker” but that he was very skilled at mustering the talents of others.
Gonzalez was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2010 after he was convicted in Miami of leading a ring that breached card processing systems at Heartland Payment Systems, 7-11, Hannaford Brothers, TJ Maxx, BJ's Wholesale Club and others, compromising a reported 130 million accounts and costing financial services firms and insurers more than $200 million.
“He was a very good CEO or foreman,” said Secret Service Special Agent Pete Gannon. “He was very good at figuring out who could do what in different parts of the operation and then organizing their work toward a central goal.”
Gonzalez's operations grew over time and generally he took on more people as he needed to to be able to handle parts of the operation that had become too time consuming, the panel agreed. Gannon noted that Gonzalez started cooperating with someone overseas to sell card numbers after that part of the operation began taking too much time for him to do himself.
“His level of organization was really quite extraordinary,” said Kim Peretti, former U.S. Assistant District Attorney who led the Gonzalez prosecution. “Particularly when you consider how much drug use was going on at the time.”