By Kevin Poulsen
May 4, 2010
A North Carolina grocery worker is being held without bail in Houston on
attempted computer hacking charges after inadvertently partnering with
an undercover FBI agent in an alleged citywide ATM-reprogramming caper.
Thor Alexander Morris, 19, was arrested at a Houston flea market last
month after trying a default administrative passcode on a Tranax
Mini-Bank ATM there, according to the FBI. Morris, who was wearing a wig
to disguise his appearance, allegedly hoped to reprogram the machine to
think it was loaded with $1 bills instead of $20 bills. That would let
him pull $8,000 in cash with $400 in withdrawals from a prepaid debit
Details of the federal case are laid out in a criminal complaint (.pdf)
filed in Houston in late April. Morris allegedly hoped to hit more than
30 Houston ATMs and clear at least $250,000. But he made the mistake of
approaching a reformed Texas con man for help with the scheme, who
helped the feds set up a sting operation.
Cash-machine-reprogramming scams were first noticed in the financial
industry in 2005, and surfaced publicly in 2006 when a cyber thief was
caught on video looting an ATM at a Virginia gas station. Threat Level
later confirmed that default administrative passcodes for retail ATMs
manufactured by Tranax and Triton were printed in owner's manuals easily
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