Albert Gonzalez And His Hack Pack Get The New York Times Magazine Treatment

Last May, we brought you the story of Albert Gonzalez, Jonathan James, and their Miami-based band of hackers who engineered the largest online credit card theft ever before it all fell apart. The story, even six months later, is still incredible.

Now the New York Times Magazine has weighed in, devoting their cover story yesterday to Gonzalez's tale. Their writer, James Verini, got access to Gonzalez and his top lieutenants in prison. Click through for the best tidbits.

Gonzalez, a South Miami High grad, traveled a quick path from star government informant -- and the key behind bringing down an online hacking ring called the Shadowcrew -- to resurgent online bandit planning the theft of millions of credit card numbers from national retailers like Dave & Busters and TJ Maxx.

Since his arrest in 2008, prison evidently hasn't been kind to Gonzalez. Verini reports that the hacker, who once was a weightlifting enthusiast, looked gaunt and thin with bloodshot eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses.

The hacker doesn't drop any huge surprises in the feature, but he does shed some light on his career as a government informant. He says he enjoyed taking down the Shadowcrew.

""I did find the investigation exciting," Gonzalez tells the magazine. "The intellectual element. Unmasking them, figuring out their identities. Looking back, it was kind of easy, though. When someone trusts you, they let their guard down."

The piece also cements Gonzalez's reputation in the hacker world -- as a mediocre coder who shined as an organizer bringing together other hackers for big projects. He also admits that the adrenaline of stealing (in addition to all the cash he needed to fuel his drug habit) was his prime motivation.

"Whatever morality I should have been feeling was trumped by the thrill," Gonzalez says.

In the end, Gonzalez's biggest regret seems to be that he ever worked with the feds at all. Had he just pleaded guilty in 2003, rather than flipping to help the feds bring down Shadowcrew, his path may have been different, he reasons.

""I should have just done my time in 2003. I should have manned up and did it. I would be getting out about now," he says.

As for James -- a brilliant and troubled hacker, who earned fame as the first juvenile in the U.S. to serve time for computer crimes -- he nets just a paragraph in the Times feature. For his full tragic story, check out our piece from May.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink