Hacker, FBI informant, identity thief led many lives

Hacker, FBI informant, identity thief led many lives
Hacker, FBI informant, identity thief led many lives 

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, 
prosecutors say.

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 
company 3ComPBX.

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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