NEWS: NYC cabbies get prison time in Russian hack scheme to skip JFK taxi line
This hack for hacks backfired big time.
A pair of Queens cab drivers were handed prison sentences on Monday after they admitted to working with Russian hackers to breach the JFK Airport taxi dispatch system and help their fellow cabbies skip to the front of the pick-up line.
Daniel Abayev, 47, and Peter Layman, 49, charged other cab drivers $10 a pop to skip to the front of the queue at the bustling airport — where cabbies regularly wait several hours in a holding lot before being dispatched to a terminal, according to Manhattan federal prosecutors.
Abayev and Layman allegedly earned kickbacks from the drivers after helping them to skip the line.
The two cabbies sent part of their ill-gotten haul to two Russia-based hackers who helped them secure access to the Port Authority of New York’s dispatch system between November 2019 and November 2020, court papers alleged.
The duo even bribed someone to brazenly insert a flash drive loaded with hacking software into a government computer as part of the scheme, the feds said.
“Shop open,” a member of the crew would text a group chat filled with other cabbies when the crew had control of the system for the day, according to an indictment unsealed in December 2022.
Abayev, who prosecutors described as the crew’s leader, was sentenced to four years in prison by Judge Paul A. Crotty during a hearing in Manhattan Federal Court on Monday. Layman was hit with a two-year sentence.
“I know that the Pentagon is being hacked…So, can’t we hack the taxi industry?” Abayev allegedly wrote to one of the Russian hackers in November 2019.
It’s not clear from court papers exactly what Abayev was referring to, but the White House since 2016 has run an annual “Hack the Pentagon” program, in which hackers are invited to report security flaws in government systems in exchange for rewards.
News surfaced in December 2020 that a Russia-based hacking crew had breached the systems of a slew of US government agencies — including the Department of Homeland Security — in what officials have described as a sprawling spy operation.
At its peak, the Abayev-led crew was responsible for 1,000 fraudulent taxi trips daily, “underscoring the serious threat cyber hacking poses to critical infrastructure,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a statement.
Abayev and Layman each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit computer intrusion.
They were ordered to forfeit $161,858 and make more than $3.4 million in restitution payments apiece to the Port Authority — sums that their attorneys argued were out of proportion to how much money the crew made.
The two Russian men indicted for their alleged roles in the scheme, Aleksandr Derebenetc and Kirill Shipulin, remain at large.