How Max Butler, Once the Country's Most Infamous Hacker, Got His Start at a Pizzeria in Vancouver, Wash.

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In the back office of a Pizza Schmizza restaurant in Vancouver, Wash., sat one of the first computers that Max Butler ever hacked. When he did, he discovered that the PC stored all the credit-card info from each day's transactions as a text file before sending it in a batch to the credit-card companies for processing. Soon Butler would replicate his findings elsewhere, and eventually become one of the most notorious hackers in history.

Butler's story is told in the new book Kingpin, written by reporter--and convicted hacker in his own right--Kevin Poulsen.

Alexis Madrigal reviews Poulsen's book in The Atlantic today.

He cites a passage that recounts the genesis of Butler's career--a path that would see him rack up some $86 million in fraudulent charges and be handed the longest hacker sentence ever: 13 years in prison.

Atlantic, citing the book:

His scanning put him inside a Windows machine that, on closer inspection, was in the back of?ce of a Pizza Schmizza restaurant in Vancouver, Washington; he knew the place, it was near his mother's house. As he looked around the computer, he realized the PC was acting as the back-end system for the point-of-sale terminals at the restaurant -- it collected the day's credit card transactions and sent them in a single batch every night to the credit card processor. Max found that day's batch stored as a plain text ?le, with the full magstripe of every customer card recorded inside.

Madrigal says Butler's story is "less Julian Assange and more pickpocket," pointing out that while tech crimes often present a cleaner image that traditional theft or robbery, it usually ends with expensive stolen purses being resold and a bunch of swindled small businesses wondering what the hell happened.

A phone call to the Pizza Schmizza stores in Vancouver reveals that the restaurants have exchanged hands "several times" and thus no one remembers Butler.

One can only hope that whoever handles the company's computer security remembers him.

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