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For weeks, he had been badgering Stephen, known in hacker circles as the "Unix Terrorist," to refine a crucial bit of code for him. Finally, after 10 minutes of following Stephen's directions, Patrick hit the "return" button and declared the program functional.
They were in the midst of pulling off the biggest cybercrime ever perpetrated: hacking into the databases of some 250 companies — including Barnes & Noble, Office Max, 7-Eleven, Boston Market, Sports Authority and DSW — and stealing 170 million credit-card numbers. "Thank God," Albert pronounced, his eyes widening with relief and excitement.
But Albert wasn't just a typical misfit hacker.
He was also that rarest of computer geeks: one who could actually relate to other human beings.
By the time he graduated high school, in 1999, Albert had already hacked into the websites of NASA and the government of India — cyberfeats that had prompted visits by Miami detectives and the FBI, who warned him to cut it out.
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They'd been high all weekend long — on Ecstasy, coke, mushrooms and acid — so there seemed little harm in doing one last bump of Special K while they packed up to leave their ,000-a-night duplex in South Beach.
"I am not crazy.""You don't have to be crazy to go to a psychologist," his mother pleaded, but Albert was unmoved.
"If you take me, I'm not going to talk," he warned.
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At this point, Albert wasn't trying to cash in on his skills as a hacker; he simply relished the intellectual puzzle of network security, the powerful rush of picking the locks of high-tech vaults.