By Richard Gazarik
November 12, 2007
At 35, Max Ray Butler has led three lives.
He began as the stereotypical 1990s computer wiz kid who parlayed his
skills into a big-time business detecting the weak spots in
corporations' computer security armor.
Based in California's Silicon Valley, Butler was masterful at discerning
vulnerable areas where deft hackers could access a company's computer
system and steal personal financial information that could fetch
millions of dollars on the black market.
Temptation intervened, and Butler eventually became one of the criminals
he had worked to thwart, according to government investigators.
When he was caught, he moved on to his next life -- as a government
His life as a snitch came to a crashing end when he turned his back on
the government. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on
charges of selling tens of thousands of credit card numbers to an
associate in Western Pennsylvania who was a government informant.
With that indictment, government officials claim they have taken one of
the "significant players in the world of identity theft" off the
streets. Federal authorities accuse Butler of compromising networks
around the world by penetrating financial institutions' systems,
stealing credit card and personal identification numbers, and then
selling them. No price tag has been attached to the damage allegedly
done by Butler.
Today, the computer geek with the stringy, shoulder-length hair is
behind bars at the Allegheny County Jail awaiting trial on charges that
could put him in prison for up to 40 years.
Max Ray Butler grew up uneventfully in Boise, according to court
With a lifelong passion for computers, he graduated from high school and
went to work as a technician at a local computer store.
Court records say he honed his computer skills before acting on dreams
that a bigger and better life might be found in Silicon Valley, Calif.,
the epicenter of the computer revolution.
In the late 1990s, he moved to San Jose, married a woman named Kimi
Winters and started a business called Max Vision, court records show. He
snagged several contacts with companies to intentionally break into
computer networks to test their security systems. While he was
penetrating the networks and writing programs to close the breaches, he
secretly left open a back door that would allow access later,
Authorities allege that during this time, Butler began to illegally hack
into computer networks operated by the Air Force, NASA and the federal
Defense and Energy departments. He didn't steal any information, but
again left open a door so he could re-enter later, authorities said.
It wasn't long before the FBI came calling.
When agents scoured his home in 1998, a contrite Butler immediately
confessed. The FBI said Butler could make amends by working as an
He helped the FBI crack a ring of hackers who had penetrated telephone
He attended a clandestine meeting of hackers in Las Vegas and obtained
encryption information that helped federal agents learn the identities
of hackers who generally attempt to mask their identities by using
cryptic screen names.
Then Butler suddenly shunned the FBI. He began missing meetings and
didn't answer phone calls.
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