JFK taxi hacking case continues as two more suspects named

Two more men have been charged with conspiring to hack the digital taxi-ranking system at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Meanwhile, the two original suspects have pleaded guilty to the scheme, which allowed them to charge cabbies for queue-jumping to obtain fares.

Aleksandr Derebenc, aka “Sasha Novgorod,” and Kirill Shipulin, aka “Kirill Russia,” both 30, were formally indicted by a federal court on October 30th, just as Daniel Abayev, 47, pleaded guilty to his part in the hacking scheme. His original accomplice, Peter Leyman, 49, entered a guilty plea earlier this month.

According to the original report issued by the Department of Justice (DoJ), the crooks charged $10 a time for this illegal service after using hacker accomplices in Russia to disrupt the electronic system supposed to regulate the influx of cabs to the busy airport.

The latest DoJ bulletin claims that Derebenc and Shipulin participated in the scam between 2019 and 2021 and were operating out of Russia – the two original accused are US citizens based in Queens, New York.

“Taxi drivers who sought to pick up a fare at JFK were required to wait in a holding lot before being dispatched to a specific terminal by the Dispatch System,” said the DoJ. “Taxi drivers were frequently required to wait several hours in the lot before being dispatched to a terminal and were dispatched in approximately the order in which they arrived at the holding lot.”

The DoJ further alleges that the four men conspired to take advantage of this onerous queueing system by “bribing someone to insert a flash drive containing malware into computers connected to the Dispatch System, obtaining unauthorized access [...] via a Wi-Fi connection, and stealing computer tablets connected to the Dispatch System.”

It is further alleged that the four men sent messages to each other “in which they explicitly discussed their intention to hack the Dispatch System.”

The DoJ cites a message sent by Abayev to Derebenc in Russian in which he said: “I know that the Pentagon is being hacked [...] So, can’t we hack the taxi industry[?]”

At its peak, the illegal scheme allowed a thousand taxi drivers to jump the queue per day, suggesting that this was a crime that netted hundreds of accomplices.

Derebenc and Shipulin face up to ten years apiece in a federal prison if found guilty. Abayev and Leyman face up to half that tariff each, having confessed to their part in the crime. Both men will be sentenced in the new year.

US Attorney Damian Williams said: “Cyber hacking can pose grave threats to infrastructure systems that we rely on every day, and our office is dedicated to pursuing criminal hackers, whether they be in Russia or here in New York.”

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